After warm eggnog had been brewed and shredded wrapping paper blanketed living rooms across the land, the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks kicked off 2016’s NBA Christmas Day slate last December. Having split back-to-back games on the Dec. 22 and 23 at the Indiana Pacers and home for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston somehow regrouped for a noon E.T. tip at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 25. “I hate getting up early,” Marcus Smart said. “It’s an adjustment,” said Jaylen Brown. “It was almost like three games in three and a half days,” Brad Stevens calculated.
Stevens spared his entire team a full day off in Manhattan on Dec. 24. The following morning, the Celtics met for a 9 a.m. breakfast, complete with a walk through and brief film session. “You’re not able to do as much as you’d like to prepare, whether it’s prepare your own team or prepare for your opponent,” Stevens said. “But you have to do the right amount. So wherever we can find our windows, we try and find our windows.” Boston and New York didn’t disappoint. In the third quarter, Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis traded thunderous, driving jams from the top of the key. Carmelo Anthony’s layup with 1:06 remaining tied the game at 112, capping a momentous 16-3 Knicks run. Smart, the bedhead who converted just 28.3% of his three-pointers last season, drilled the go-ahead triple one possession later that ultimately proved the difference in Boston’s 119-114 victory.
The league couldn’t have asked for a more entertaining first act for its hallmark day of the regular season. It was a staunch anomaly, however. The Celtics and Knicks combined to shoot 47.8% from the field, 37.2% from deep and each scored well over 120 points per 100 possessions. Historically—well at least for the better part of the last decade—teams scheduled to be part of marquee matchups struggle mightily in the noon slot on Christmas Day’s vaunted national TV lineup. Since 2008, the 18 teams that have played in the 12 p.m. game on Christmas have combined to hit just 44.4% of their shots from the field, which would rank 23rd in the NBA this season with the Portland Trail Blazers; 33.8% from three, a mark between the league’s 28th and 29th-ranked teams this year, Brooklyn and Phoenix, respectively; and posted an average offensive rating of 103.5—tied with the Nets, currently 19th in the NBA.
Compare that to the 8 p.m. composites since 2009—it's best to exclude the dreadful 2008 matchup between the Cavaliers and the 4-23 Wizards who lost Gilbert Arenas to a season-ending knee injury—where teams combined to shoot 46.3% from the field, 36.9% from three and tallied an average offensive output of 111.1 points per 100 possessions, an efficiency that would rank fourth in the entire NBA this season. “It’s definitely a little different, but it’s no excuse,” said Scott Brooks, now Washington’s coach. Brooks guided Oklahoma City in a 2014 Christmas Day 2:30 p.m. tip against San Antonio. “You usually don’t have a walk-through. You have a breakfast meeting,” he said. “I’ve been on teams as a player where we’d tape up the ballroom and make a key and pass the ball around, but I don’t do that. I don’t think any coaches do that now. I think that’s the old school way of doing it. But maybe I’ll do it this Monday.”
Brooks’ Wizards will play Stevens’ Celtics at 5:30 p.m. this Christmas. It will be Washington’s first appearance on the holiday since 2014 when the Wizards also managed to buck the noon trend at Madison Square Garden. They torched New York for 117.5 points per 100 possessions, converting 51.2% of their shots and pouring in 43.8% of their threes. “It’s actually good when you’re halfway tired, halfway sleepy, halfway awake, because it actually gets you going,” Marcin Gortat explained. “When you get warmed up, you’re really boosted up.” The Wizards’ center went to sleep at midnight the evening prior, when team planes are often first ascending after a typical 7:30, 8 p.m. tip-off. But Washington managed to perform, unlike so many others before it.
Who could forget—OK, please, please forget—the putrid noon contest between the New Orleans Hornets and Orlando Magic on Christmas Day 2008? Dwight Howard’s Magic ultimately escaped an 88-68 snooze fest in which the teams collaborated to hit only 36.7% of their shots. One year later, the Heat and Knicks joined forces to shoot 7/40 (17.5%) from deep in Miami’s 93-87 victory. The Heat returned to the noon game on Christmas Day 2015, where they and the visiting Pelicans went to an overtime period nobody truly wanted to witness, posting 90.9 and 85.1 offensive ratings, respectively.
“It’s probably not everybody’s favorite event. People that bust their tail and work at the arenas and are there all the time,” Stevens said. “But to be a player or coach on Christmas Day, it’s pretty special. I don’t take for granted that we’re on that schedule, for sure.” Here’s to hoping the Knicks and Sixers combine for an uncharacteristically special noon game this Christmas.