The World’s Most Famous Arena has played host to countless memorable moments over the years, but which NBA Christmas Day moments stand out the most?
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The first NBA game played on December 25 came in 1947, a year after the NBA’s inception, when the New York Knicks beat the Providence Steamrollers at (the old) Madison Square Garden 89–75. While most of us are too young to have seen that game, there have been many memorable games played at Madison Square Garden in the modern era that we decided to take a look back at.
2011: Knicks vs. Celtics
The start to the 2011 season was delayed due to the ongoing lockout throughout the summer (161 days to be exact), but when it was announced that the season could be salvaged, the league decided to open its season with a set of marquee games on Christmas Day.
The Celtics were fresh off of a seven-point loss to the Lakers in the previous season’s NBA Finals and were expected to win this game, too. But the Knicks were carrying some momentum over from the previous season, their first winning season in over a decade. A prime Carmelo Anthony was ready for the season after his trade from Denver midway through 2010-11, and the Knicks came out hooping.
Melo finished with 37 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block. 17 of Melo’s 37 points came in the fourth quarter, which the Knicks dominated, outscoring the Celtics 27-17.
“Most importantly for us, as a new team, we showed something,” Anthony said. “We came together as a team. Even when we got down, there wasn’t no frowns. Nobody was down. Mentally everybody was still up about it, and we willed our way to this win.”
1985: Knicks vs. Celtics
This was rookie Patrick Ewing’s first Christmas Day game, coming against the vaunted Celtics, no less. Ewing would not disappoint, however, the victory would not come easy. The Knicks were down 25 points at one stage of the game. By the end of the fourth, the game was tied, and the Knicks would eventually prevail in double-overtime, 113-104.
Ewing would finish the game with 37 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
The 1985-86 Boston team is widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time, and they would go on to win the title that season after amassing a 67-15 record during the regular season. They were no match for the new King of New York on Christmas, though.
1984: Knicks vs. Nets
While the new King of New York shined bright on Christmas Day 1985, it was another King – Bernard, this time – that set records for both the Knicks franchise and for Madison Square Garden the previous season. Even though the Knicks lost this game (how very Knicksy of them) to the Nets, Bernard King put forth the greatest individual scoring performance of all time on Christmas.
King dropped 60 points on his former team, and in a most efficient manner, too. He made 22-of-26 of his free throw attempts and shot 63 percent (19-of-30) from the floor. He didn’t take a single 3-point attempt (This must come as a shock to those who only know the modern era of basketball!)
King’s MSG scoring record would stand until 2014 when it was broken by Carmelo Anthony.
1986: Knicks v Bulls
Looking back on this game now, one might say this was the beginning of the Knicks-Bulls rivalry that would last deep into the ’90s. It was also the first time that Ewing and Michael Jordan would face each other in an NBA game.
Jordan was in the midst of an incredible individual season in which he would average 37.1 points per game (the highest of his career), but it was the second-year Knicks center who would get the edge in the first of their battles. Ewing finished with 28 points, 17 rebounds, two blocks and one assist, but the biggest shot he hit that night was the one with time expiring. After a missed jumper by Trent Tucker, Ewing rebounded the shot and threw up a short buzzer-beater that gave New York a two-point win, 86-84.
Jordan had 30 points to go along with six steals, five assists, three rebounds and two blocks, but it wasn’t enough to deny Ewing and the Knicks a deserved Christmas Day victory.
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