With Thunder's streak of Christmas Day games ending, players 'excited' to spend time with family
Nerlens Noel thinks back to his childhood, sitting by his Christmas tree and flipping the channel to a basketball game.
“After you open your gifts or after you have a cup of eggnog at the table,” Noel said, “you’re watching NBA basketball.”
Such has been the tradition in Oklahoma City for the last nine years. A tradition that ends this Christmas. Thunder players can truly be home for the holiday for the first time since 2009.
There will be anticipated Christmas clashes between the Lakers and the Clippers, the Bucks and the 76ers and the Celtics and the Raptors. The five-game slate begins at 11 a.m. and will last through midnight.
“It’s probably the second-biggest basketball moment outside of the finals,” Paul George said during his return to Oklahoma City. “It’s nice to be in a market where that game is being played on that stage. It’s fun. It’s how you bring in Christmas, in my eyes.”
But the Thunder (15-14), winners of five straight games, is off until Thursday night. OKC has exceeded expectations this season, but the stars have departed, and so too has a coveted Christmas matchup.
“Playing on Christmas is a privilege,” Thunder point guard Chris Paul said. “But I’m definitely excited about spending time with my family.”
The 34-year-old Paul has played on every Christmas since the 2010-11 season, his last with New Orleans.
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“Kids won’t remember what you got them last Christmas, or the Christmas before that,” Paul said. “But they remember experiences. So, I’m just happy to be around my kids.”
Noel made his Christmas debut last season. The Rockets beat the Thunder 113-109, one of three Thunder losses on Christmas compared to six wins.
“It was definitely an honor to do that,” Noel said. “And it’s very nerve-wracking your first time on Christmas Day, just knowing it’s probably one of the most tuned-in games all year. So it was definitely a humbling experience.”
And now the anticipation for another Christmas game begins.
“I got my one in,” Noel said. “I would like more, but just to say that I experienced it is definitely something I can be appreciative of. But I think, shoot, there can definitely be a few more in my career. With the young team that’s going on here, there’s no reason that this team can’t be playing Christmas games in the future.”