Nets History Spotlight: A Christmas Day Classic

Nets closed out a holiday series with 120-114 win over the Knicks

For four years in the early 1980s, it was an annual tradition: the Nets at the Knicks on Christmas Day. The series was worth the setup, with four games decided by a total of 11 points, including two overtime finishes.

The final game of the series was the Nets’ 120-114 win on December 25, 1984, giving them wins in three of the four games. YES Network is showing this game as its Nets Classic for the week, with multiple viewings.

It was an exciting period for the Nets after the franchise had scuffled through its first five seasons in the NBA. The Nets had two top 10 picks in both the 1980 and 1981 NBA Drafts, taking Mike O’Koren and Mike Gminski the first year, and Buck Williams and Albert King the next. They added All-NBA guard Otis Birdsong for the 1981-82 season, when they moved into their new arena at the Meadowlands.

The Nets jumped from 24 wins to 44 that season, beating the Knicks 96-95 on James Bailey’s layup with 19 seconds remaining in the first of the four straight Christmas matchups. On Christmas Day 1982, Buck Williams had 30 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 14-of-15 in the Nets’ 112-110 overtime win. That victory was part of an 11-game win streak for the Nets, who went on to win 49 games.

The next year, the Knicks flipped things around, winning by the same 112-110 score, again in overtime, despite 27 points from Birdsong and a 14-point, 18-rebound double-double by Williams.

With the Nets coming off their first NBA playoff series win, an upset of defending champion Philadelphia in 1984, the 1984-85 season got off to a shaky start. They were 11-17 going into the Christmas Day matchup. But their holiday win would be the start of a four-game win streak and they went on to finish the season on a 31-23 run and make their fourth straight playoff appearance.

They were down as many as 16 points as the Knicks’ Bernard King scored 40 first-half points. King, the older brother of the Nets’ Albert King, had been drafted by the Nets in 1977, the team’s first NBA draft pick. Bernard, who played two seasons for the Nets, would go on to finish with 60 points.

But the Nets climbed back throughout the second half, eventually pulling ahead 106-105 with five minutes to go on a Micheal Ray Richardson three-point play for their first lead since the game’s opening basket.

With the Knicks up 111-108, Richardson connected on a jumper, and Gminski scored to put the Nets ahead for good 112-111, sealing the game with a 12-0 run.

Richardson finished with 36 points, four assists, five rebounds, and four steals. Gminski had 27 points and 14 rebounds. Williams had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Kelvin Ransey came off the bench for 24 points.

Four days later at the Meadowlands, Richardson had 33 points and Williams had 27 points and 10 rebounds as the Nets followed up with a 100-97 win over the Knicks.

Richardson finished the season averaging 20.1 points, 8.2 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.0 steals while playing all 82 games. Birdsong led the Nets with 20.6 points per game — his high in seven seasons as a Net — while shooting 51.1 percent, and Williams averaged 18.2 points and 12.3 rebounds.

But despite their strong finish the Nets couldn’t repeat their playoff success, falling in the first round to Detroit. It was the last of four straight 40-win seasons. Injuries began to slow the core group as the Nets slipped to 39 wins and the last of their five straight playoff appearances in 1985-86, also leaving their Christmas Day rivalry with the Knicks behind.

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