The Suns’ and Cardinals’ most notable Christmas games
It’ll be a spirited Christmas Day in the Valley this year.
The Phoenix Suns visit what could be a chilly Denver to face the Nuggets in the NBA’s nightcap at 8:30 p.m. Featured in primetime, the floundering Arizona Cardinals host Tom Brady — Kliff Kingsbury’s old teammate — and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 6:20 p.m.
It’s the second consecutive year both teams will be playing on Dec. 25. In the past 30 years, there have been 10 Christmas games played by the Cardinals and Suns.
Of those, here are some of the most memorable.
1995: Cowboys vs. Cardinals, Spurs vs. Suns
More well-known for its footage becoming part of the movie “Jerry Maguire,” the Dallas Cowboys’ 37-13 victory over the Cardinals put a lump of coal in the stockings of fans at Sun Devil Stadium.
On this Monday Night Football game, Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman threw for 350 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while Arizona’s Dave Krieg went 12-of-28 for 152 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns.
For Arizona, fullback Larry Centers had a day with 12 receptions for 172 yards — as well as a hurdle of Cowboys corner Larry Brown — but his Cardinals could only score on two field goals and on a 48-yard interception return by Aeneas Williams. Arizona coach Buddy Ryan, who was fired following the season, left the field while there was still time on the clock.
On the same day at America West Arena, Charles Barkley’s 29 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists weren’t enough against Sean Elliott, David Robinson and the Spurs as Phoenix fell 105-100.
2021: Suns vs. Warriors, Colts vs. Cardinals
The Suns and Warriors left this one with a combined 53-12 record, and at the time, the matchup appeared to be a preview of two teams on a collision course to face off in the Western Conference Finals. Neither team led by more than 10 points in the back-and-forth.
It included 12 lead changes and eight ties, but 33 points from Stephen Curry — though on 10-of-27 shooting — was too much for the Suns to overcome in a 116-107 home loss.
Devin Booker struggled by going 5-of-19 from the field for 13 points, but he had ample support from Chris Paul (21 points, eight assists) and Deandre Ayton (18 points).
The Golden State victory slid the team back into the Western Conference lead. It was already the third meeting between the Pacific Division foes on the season — the Warriors had lost to the Suns during Phoenix’s franchise-record 18-game winning streak and then ended said streak on Dec. 3, before the Christmas Day game.
Later that Christmas evening, the Cardinals hosted the Indianapolis Colts at State Farm Stadium.
And that one wasn’t so pretty. At 10-4 but coming off two consecutive losses, Arizona fell, 22-16.
It got off to a dooming staff with a missed Matt Prater field goal from 51 yards that led to Colts running back Jonathan Taylor busting a 43-yard run on his team’s first play from scrimmage.
The Cardinals would take a safety, turn it over on downs twice and miss another field goal on the day.
2007: Suns at Lakers
In what would become the first significant playoff run in the post-Shaq era, the Lakers and Suns squared off not quite halfway through the year for a Christmas classic that was the beginning of the end for both teams’ most recent runs of success.
Kobe Bryant scored 38 points, and the Lakers beat the Suns 122-115 in Staples Center behind an emerging Andrew Bynum, who put up 28 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocks against Phoenix. Steve Nash led the Suns with 24 points and 14 assists.
After the game, Suns coach Mike D’Antoni laughed off a feud against the Lakers’ Phil Jackson, who called a timeout after Phoenix called one late in a Lakers blowout earlier that year.
“It’s not a big deal,” D’Antoni told the Associated Press before this game, citing his team’s poor play as the main reason for his short fuse. “That’s the whole crux of it … I can live without being in his good graces. I’m sure he can live with not being in mine.”
2008: Suns vs. Spurs
You’ve not lived the Suns-Spurs rivalry until you’ve experienced a Roger Mason Jr. buzzer-beater to give San Antonio a win (see 24-second mark).
Tony Parker and Tim Duncan haunted the Suns as usual with 52 combined points. Duncan added 17 boards, but Phoenix countered with Amar’e Stoudemire and the Big Shaqtus, Shaquille O’Neal, combining for 48 points, 25 rebounds and six blocks.
It wasn’t enough in San Antonio’s 91-90 win, which apparently wasn’t the only Roger Mason Jr. buzzer-beater that year.
1993: Suns vs. Rockets
Well, it felt good at the time. In one of the better Christmas performances of all-time — SLAM called it No. 10 — Suns All-Star Charles Barkley dropped 38 points, 18 boards and four dimes on the Rockets, while Kevin Johnson added 36 points and nine assists in an 111-81 rout.
This, as Barkley was coming off an MVP season before the Suns fell short of the 1993 NBA title against the Bulls.
Yet, it was Houston and Hakeem Olajuwon that would have the last laugh, as the Rockets would eventually beat Phoenix in the conference semifinals and roll through the Jazz and Knicks to win the 1994 championship.
2010: Cardinals vs. Cowboys
Fifteen years after the first game mentioned on this list came the Monday night rematch.
In a battle of two 5-10 teams, this time at what was called University of Phoenix Stadium, Jay Feely’s 48-yard field goal with five seconds left helped the Cardinals to a 27-26 victory. Who led him there? John Skelton, of course. Led by backup QB Stephen McGee, Dallas scored a touchdown but missed an extra point to go ahead 26-24.
The Cardinals drove 46 yards in nine plays, in part thanks to a 4th-and-15 conversion; Skelton hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 26-yard completion from the Arizona 19-yard line to keep the drive alive. The play was Fitzgerald’s only catch of the evening, by the way.
The Cardinals’ offense wasn’t exactly great, to say the least. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Greg Toler each recorded pick-sixes, and Andre Roberts scored on a 74-yard reception for 21 of the points.
The others: The Suns’ 108-87 loss to the Lakers in 1996 and their 124-93 blowout win against the Clippers in 2009.