For those of us with socks and lumps of coal in our stockings, the NBA won't disappoint with their Christmas Day slate. After the Sixers visit Madison Square Garden (Knicks are 2.5-point dogs as the hosts) and the triple-double watch ends in Dallas with LeBron James and Luka Doncic face off (Mavericks are 8.5-point favorites), the marquee game of the night (sorry, Grizzlies, Warriors, Suns, and Nuggets) tips off in Boston when Eastern Conference powerhouses Bucks and Celtics meet at TD Garden.
The Celtics are 4.5-point favorites with the Bucks in the 617, but both championship contenders limp into Sunday. After a 1-5 stretch that included losses to the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers, the Celtics looked like themselves in a Friday win against the Timberwolves. The Bucks, on the other hand, have been a .500 team against playoff teams over the last two weeks and were most recently blown out by the Brooklyn Nets 118-100.
The Celtics are attempting to exorcise ghosts of Christmas past. In last year’s holiday meeting, Despite being undermanned, Boston had a 13-point lead midway through the fourth quarter on the road in Milwaukee. An all-too-familiar collapse in the clutch would lead to a 117-113 loss, but would eventually help fuel their resurgence after the new year. They’ve suffered a similar stretch this month and are hoping to use the Bucks game as a springboard for a 2023 bounce back.
And even though any one win or loss in December doesn't matter more than the next, it's hard to think that either team doesn't have this game circled on their calendar. Disregard the glitz and glamor of a national television audience on Christmas Day. This is the first meeting between them since Game 7 of their grueling series back in June and narratives abound. Malcolm Brogdon facing the team that drafted him but wouldn’t pay him at the end of his rookie contract? That’s water under the bridge at this point. Al Horford’s turn-back-the-clock performance in Game 4? Yesteryear’s news. Those seven threes by Grant Williams that would bury the Bucks in the clincher? A distant memory.
At the center of Bucks vs. Celtics are two MVP candidates locking horns in the winter classic. Jayson Tatum was the early season favorite, but as Boston has waned, so have his odds even though he’s still averaging career-highs in points (30.5 per game with 47-35-86 splits) and rebounds (8.1 rpg). Giannis Antetokounmpo clocks in at 31-11-5 as one of the league’s singular unstoppable forces. Our friends at DraftKings currently have Tatum and Antetokounmpo as co-favorites at +250.
After the Bucks and Celtics, the Memphis Grizzlies are 5-point favorites visiting the defending champs sans Steph Curry and Nikola Jokic and the Western Conference one-seed Denver Nuggets host the setting Phoenix Suns favored by 4.5 points.