Christmas and the Chicago Bulls
This season marks the 70th year the NBA is playing on Christmas Day, tipping-off with the Philadelphia 76ers visiting the New York Knicks at 11:00 AM (CT) on ESPN. At 2:00 PM (CT) a 2017 NBA Finals rematch takes place with the Cleveland Cavaliers taking on the Golden State Warriors in Oakland on ABC TV, followed by the Washington Wizards at the Boston Celtics at 4:30 PM (CT), also on ABC. The Houston Rockets then head to Oklahoma City to meet reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook the Thunder at 7:00 PM (CT) on ABC, and finally fans can catch the Minnesota Timberwolves taking on the Los Angeles Lakers at 9:30 PM (CT) over on TNT.
Throughout the team’s 52-year history, the Chicago Bulls have played 21 Christmas games, going 13-8 overall (8-1 at home, 5-7 on the road). The first game took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City against the Knicks in the team’s inaugural season. The last time the Bulls hit the hardwood on Christmas was just a year ago in San Antonio against the Spurs.
This season will be the Knicks’ league-leading 52nd Christmas Day game. In fact New York knocked off the Providence Steamrollers, 89-75, in the very first Christmas game ever played back in 1947. The Lakers are next on the all-time Christmas list with 43 games, followed by Detroit with 32, Boston with 30 with the Cincinnati Royals/KC-Omaha/Sacramento Kings and the Philadelphia 76ers right behind with 29 Christmas appearances apiece. So far only two teams, the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets and the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies, have yet to play on Christmas.
Here are a couple of other interesting NBA/Christmas side notes:
Here’s a quick look at each of the Bulls’ Christmas Day games over the years:
2016: San Antonio Spurs 119, Chicago Bulls 100
San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge connected on his first nine attempts as the Spurs shot 82% from the field to storm out to a 36-25 lead in the opening quarter. In fact Aldridge actually hit his first 11 shots of the game and finished 15-of-20 from the field to post a season-high 33 points to lead the Spurs to victory. Dwyane Wade led the Bulls with 24 points, including posting 10 points in the final quarter.
2015: Chicago Bulls 105, Oklahoma City 96
After enduring three straight losses and having to spend Christmas on the road to meet a team that had won nine of its previous 10 games, the Bulls took down the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-96, in front of a sold-out crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Jimmy Butler led Chicago’s attack with 23 points, while teammate Pau Gasol chipped in 21 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Chicago outrebounded OKC, 53-48 and held the Thunder to just 38.5% shooting. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 29 points, but needed 21 shots to do so.
2014: Chicago Bulls 113, Los Angeles Lakers 93
Facing his old team for the first time after signing with the Bulls as a free agent over the summer, Pau Gasol put up 23 points and snagged 13 rebounds to lead Chicago to a 20-point victory. Lakers great, Kobe Bryant, had to sit out due to various nagging injuries, but former Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer returned to the United Center and scored 14 points off the bench for LA.
2013: Chicago Bulls 95, Brooklyn Nets 78
What had been first viewed as a Christmas Day showdown between two legitimate Eastern Conference contenders at the start of the season ended up being a matchup of a couple of battered and bruised, sub-.500 teams with the Bulls (10-16) and the Brooklyn Nets (9-18) spending Christmas together at the Barclays Center in an early afternoon Holiday matinee.
With Chicago trailing 50-49 early in the third quarter, Bulls forward Jimmy Butler keyed a 21-5 run to give Chicago control of the game. Butler, who had been forced to sit out the previous contest due to a right ankle injury, started things off with a 3-pointer and then added a three-point play a minute later to give the Bulls a 57-52 lead. By the end of the third the Bulls had built a comfortable 19-point lead and were never seriously challenged the rest of the way. Chicago’s Taj Gibson came off the bench and led all scorers with 20 points, while Butler finished with 15. Nets point guard Deron Williams led Brooklyn in scoring with 18.
2012: Houston Rockets 120, Chicago Bulls 97
Former Chicago backup center Omer Asik enjoyed his first Christmas as a Houston Rocket by scoring 20 points and snagging 18 rebounds against his old team to lead Houston to a blowout 120-97 road win over the Bulls at the United Center. Guard Nate Robinson came off the bench to lead Chicago with 27 points.
2011: Chicago Bulls 88, Los Angeles Lakers 87
Chicago’s Derrick Rose, the reigning league MVP, drove the lane and lofted a smooth floating one-hander for the winning points in the 2011-12 season opener for both the Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day at the Staples Center in LA. Rose’s go-ahead shot came with just 4.8 seconds to play, as Chicago rallied from an 11-point deficit in the final 3:44 to post for an 88-87 victory. LA’s Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 28 points.
2010: New York Knicks 103, Chicago Bulls 95
Playing on Christmas Day for the first time in more than a decade, the Bulls could muster only 12 points in the fourth quarter as the New York Knicks pulled away late to post a 103-95 victory at Madison Square Garden. Free agent pick-up Carlos Boozer led Chicago with 26 points and 19 rebounds but also committed seven turnovers. Derrick Rose added 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for the Bulls, but like Boozer, he also committed seven turnovers. Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton each scored 20 for the Knicks.
1997: Chicago Bulls 90, Miami Heat 80
In what would be his final Christmas Day game as a member of the Chicago Bulls, future Hall of Famer Michael Jordan scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to power Chicago to a 10-point victory over the Miami Heat in front of a standing room only crowd of 24,182 fans at the United Center.
1996: Chicago Bulls 95, Detroit Pistons 83
Bulls forward Scottie Pippen exploded for 27 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to lead Chicago to a 95-83 Christmas night victory over the archrival Detroit Pistons at the United Center. Dennis Rodman, who began his NBA career with Pistons, scored 11 points and pulled down a game-high 22 rebounds for the Bulls to help Chicago run its record to an NBA-best 25-3 on the year. All-Star Grant Hill led Detroit’s attack with 27 points.
1994: Chicago Bulls 107, New York Knicks 104 (OT)
Chicago’s Scottie Pippen never left the court in this Christmas thriller, leading the Bulls to a 107-104 overtime victory over the New York Knicks at the United Center. Pippen played 53 minutes and notched 36 points — including all seven of Chicago’s points in overtime — while grabbing 16 rebounds and notching five steals. Chicago’s Toni Kukoc played 40 minutes off-the-bench and also contributed 25 points and handed out six assists in the victory. Future Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing led the Knicks with 30 points and 13 rebounds, while former Bulls strongman Charles Oakley added 20 points, six rebounds and six assists for New York.
12/25/1993 – Michael Jordan
1993: Chicago Bulls 95, Orlando Magic 93
Bulls backup forward Toni Kukoc nailed the game-winner with only two seconds left to play to give Chicago a 95-93 Christmas night victory over the Orlando Magic inside a loud and boisterous Chicago Stadium. Kukoc’s twine-tickler extended Chicago’s winning streak to nine games. Scottie Pippen played every minute (48) and led all scorers with 28 points. Windy City native and former Fighting Illini All-American Nick Anderson led the Magic with 24 points, backed up by Shaquille O’Neal with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
1992: Chicago Bulls 89, New York Knicks 77
The great Michael Jordan put on an incredible National TV Christmas night show in front of a frenzied, sold out Chicago Stadium crowd of 18,676 in posting 42 points to lead the Bulls to an 89-77 victory over the hated Gotham City Knicks. Besides Jordan, Scottie Pippen was the only other Bulls player to notch double-figures in scoring with 16. New York villain John Starks and guard Rolando Blackman led the Knicks with 17 points apiece.
1991: Chicago Bulls 121, Boston Celtics 99
Six Bulls, led by Scottie Pippen’s game-high 27, scored in double-figures as Chicago ran away with a 121-99 Christmas victory over the Boston Celtics at the Chicago Stadium. Boston’s legendary Larry Bird, in what would be his final Christmas game, was limited to just eight points and eight rebounds.
1990: Chicago Bulls 98, Detroit Pistons 86
Chicago’s Michael Jordan led the Bulls to a thrilling 98-86 victory over the defending NBA Champion Detroit Pistons at the Chicago Stadium. Jordan led all scorers with 37 points. Chicago’s stifling defense held Detroit’s “Bad Boys” to 42.3% shooting while the Bulls connected on 51.9% of their shots.
1986: New York Knicks 86, Chicago Bulls 85
Second-year center Patrick Ewing’s buzzer-beater capped a 28-point, 17-rebound outing as the New York Knicks took down the Bulls, 86-85, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Michael Jordan led all scorers with 30 points but shot just 10-of-28 from the field.
1976: Chicago Bulls 96, Kansas City Kings 91
Bulls guard Wilbur Holland led all scorers with 22 points to lead Chicago to a 96-91 upset victory over Kansas City Kings at Kemper Arena in KC. In his first NBA season, 7’2 Bulls center Artis Gilmore, battled foul trouble throughout the contest and was held to just eight points and seven rebounds before fouling out. Strongman Sam Lacey led the Kings with 21 points.
1972: Phoenix Suns 115, Chicago Bulls 108
For the first time in franchise history the Bulls spent Christmas in the Arizona desert to take on a scrappy and talented Phoenix Suns squad in front of 10,420 fans at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Chicago quickly jumped to a comfortable 27-20 lead after one quarter and even extended its edge to 57-49 at the half. The two teams went toe-to-toe in the third, with Phoenix cutting its deficit to six heading into the final stanza. Thanks to some blistering shooting from veteran guard Dick Van Arsdale and his backcourt running mate, Charlie Scott, the Suns finally were able to knot the score at 99-99 with 5:12 left. After two more ties, Phoenix went ahead to stay 105-103 on two free throws from Van Arsdale with just 2:45 to go in the game. The Suns went on to post a 115-108 come-from-behind victory as Van Arsdale notched a season-high 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting on top of going 10-of-11 from the charity stripe. Bob “Butterbean” Love led Chicago with a team-high 29 points to go along with 14 rebounds.
1971: Chicago Bulls 109, Portland Trail Blazers 88
Chicago had reacquired Norm Van Lier from the Cincinnati Royals at the start of the season to form the first great Bulls team featuring the dynamic duo of Van Lier and Jerry Sloan in the backcourt, Bob Love and Chet Walker manning the forward positions with 7’0 center Tom Boerwinkle manning the middle. The Bulls would go on to win a then-franchise best 57 games, a victory total not exceeded until 1990-91, Chicago’s first championship season. On Christmas Day, 1971, the Bulls traveled to Portland to take on the Trail Blazers, thumping the home team to the tune of 109-88. Love led all scorers with 26 points while Walker added 21. Rookie Sidney Wicks led the Blazers with 24 points. Wicks later went on to capture the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award.
1970: Baltimore Bullets 128, Chicago Bulls 112
The Bulls were definitely a team on the come, producing not only their first ever winning season but the franchise’s first 50-win campaign. At the end of the year Head Coach Dick Motta was tabbed the NBA Coach of the Year while Bob Love and Jerry Sloan were named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team.
On Christmas Day in 1970 the Bulls found themselves in Baltimore, Maryland to take on a high-powered Bullets team that had once called the Windy City home during the early 1960s when the franchise was known as the Chicago Packers/Zephyrs. Bob Love was unstoppable and led all scorers with 42 points in the afternoon contest, yet Chicago lost, 128-112. Led by Earl “The Pearl” Monroe’s 25 points, the Bullets enjoyed a balanced attack as Eddie Miles (23 points), Jack Marin (22 points) and Wes Unseld (20 points) provided plenty of punch of their own, as Baltimore jumped to a comfortable 33-20 lead after the first quarter and never looked back.
1968: Cincinnati Royals 103, Chicago Bulls 98
In the first of a back-to-back, home-and-home series the Bulls visit the Queen City for Christmas to take on Oscar Robertson and the Cincinnati Royals at the old Cincinnati Garden Arena. The Royals’ Connie Dierking, a 31-year old, 6’9 center from the University of Cincinnati led all scorers with 31 points. Both the Bulls and Cincinnati were physical in this contest, with Jerry Sloan and Dierking fouling out before the final horn. All five Chicago starters posted double figures in scoring, led by Jim Washington’s 18 points. However, Chicago’s hardnosed defense ended up sending Cincinnati to the charity stripe 48 times, with the Royals connecting on 37. The following day the Bulls were able to turn the tables by defeating Cincinnati 104-96 at the Chicago Stadium.
1966: New York Knicks 133, Chicago Bulls 132
The NBA sent the Bulls to New York City on Christmas Day to take on the Knicks in a National TV game in Chicago’s inaugural season. Bulls forward Bob Boozer was on fire from start to finish, shooting 15-of-23 from the field and a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line in posting a then-career-high 40 points. However, New York’s Walt Bellamy (29 points) and Cazzie Russell (27 points) led a late comeback as the Knicks outscored the Bulls by nine points during the final quarter to escape with a 133-132 victory.