10 Greatest Playoff Performances in NBA History

Every year we as basketball fans look towards the playoffs as a platform for greatness.

Great players blossomed into the legends they were destined to be. These single game performances became the bench mark of excellence.

10. Reggie Miller vs. the Knicks (Game 1 of the 1995 playoffs)

This may be the only performance that people will seem to forget Miller’s overall point total. The reason for this oversight is because of what Miller did within the last fifteen seconds of this game.

The Pacers were down 105-99 with 16.4 seconds left, at which point Miller nailed what seemed to be a somewhat meaningless three pointer. It would’ve been meaningless, except that Miller stole the inbound pass from Anthony Mason and proceeded to knock down another three pointer.

Now with the score tied 105-105 and just over thirteen seconds remaining, the Knicks in-bounded the ball to John Starks.  Unbelievably Pacer teammate Sam Mitchell proceeds to foul Starks. Mitchell later said in the confusion of the action he thought the Pacers were still down a point.

Starks misses both free throws and off of the second miss Miller rebounds and is fouled. Miller hits both free throws with just over seven seconds left to make the score 107-105. Sadly for the Knicks fans, that is how the score stayed.  Reggie Miller scored 8 points in 8.9 seconds and showed the Knick fans the true meaning of choke.

9. Bill Russell vs. the Lakers (Game 7 of the 1962 finals)

In 1962 Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single game and Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double for the entire year. Bill Russell’s stats were not as jaw dropping but he won the M.V.P., a championship, and had one of the greatest performances in playoff history.

In game seven of the 1962 finals Russell scored 30 points in a game that went into overtime. Doesn’t really raise any eyebrows. Did I mention that he pulled down 40 rebounds?

That mark still stands as the most rebounds in a finals game.  More importantly, Russell led the Celtics to the first of six wins against the Lakers in the finals during the 1960’s.

8. Michael Jordan vs. the Celtics ( Game 2 of the 1986 playoffs)

This game is considered to be the coming out party for a legend that would have many more amazing performances.  Michael Jordan single-handedly willed his team to continue against the basketball goliath that was the Celtics in the 1980’s.

The Bulls would eventually lose that game, but it was no fault of Jordan’s. Michael put up a playoff record 63 points that night. In doing so he seemed to shout to the world that it was time for him to take over the sport.

It would take Jordan another five years to eventually win a title, but this game was a statement that Chicago had a foundation to build upon and that the NBA had a new face to carry it into the 90’s. Jordan’s effort also prompted one of my favorite quotes in basketball. Larry Bird talked about Jordan after the game and saying that it was “God dressed as Michael Jordan”.

7. Elgin Baylor vs. the Celtics (Game 5 of the 1962 finals)

In another amazing performance from the 1962 finals, Elgin Baylor had possibly the best statistical game in playoff history.

Baylor scored 61 points that night, which is still a finals record. To go along with that amazing amount of points, 6’5″ Baylor pulled down 22 rebounds as well.

The Lakers won game five because of Baylor’s performance, but as mentioned before, eventually lost to the Celtics in game seven.

6. Shaquille O’Neal vs the 76ers (Game 2 of the 2001 finals)

Shaquille O’Neal was at times just as dominate as Wilt Chamberlain ever was. The thing about O’Neal is that he was doing so against a more equal playing field.

Game 2 of the 2001 finals was O’Neals defining exhitibion. He showed a dominance that NBA fans hadn’t seen in decades. He looked stronger, faster, and more determined that any other player.

O’Neal scored 28 points, pulled down 20 rebounds, dished out 9 assists, and blocked 8 shots. He put on an absolute clinic as he got close to the elusive quadruple-double. The Lakers went on to win game two and then the next three games after that.

They finished the 2001 playoffs with a 15-1 record, which still stands to this day as the best playoff record for a team.

5. Michael Jordan vs. the Blazers (Game 1 of the 1992 finals)

It was Michael Jordan’s second consecutive trip the finals in 1992. He was starting to face criticism that he wasn’t a shooter. Critics started to say that his game was overblown and limited; Jordan faced this with determination to prove them wrong.

In the first game of the finals Jordan put his shooting questions to rest. He went out and hit a then-finals record six three pointers in the game and set a record that still stands for first half points.

The lasting image of this output  was when Jordan shrugged his shoulders after his sixth three. In doing so Jordan seemed to be asking himself why people would doubt him, and he just wasn’t able to come up with an answer.

4. Magic Johnson vs. the 76ers (Game 6 of the 1980 finals)

Magic Johnson was possibly the greatest multi-talented basketball player in history. He was a 6’8″, 215 pound point guard, something that the NBA had never really seen. He was just as fast and athletic as point guards but as strong and big as a power foward.

In this particular game Johnson was a 20 year old unproven rookie from Michigan State, asked to replace injured Kareem Abdual-Jabbar at the center position. Johnson’s confidence carried over as he scored 42 points, got 15 rebounds, had 7 assists, and came away with 3 steals.

They aren’t the greatest collection of stats, but it was Johnson’s ability to shine as a rookie and become a complete player that stand out. This was the first of Johnson’s five championships as a Laker, and as he later said “it was the best game I’ve ever played”.

3. Isiah Thomas vs. the Lakers (Game 6 of the 1988 finals)

In the third quarter of game six the Lakers were beating the Pistons 56-48, and Isiah Thomas seemed to be in the middle of a scoring frenzy. He had made 14 straight points for the Pistons with about four minutes to go in that same quarter.

What happened next is what made Isiah part of NBA history. Thomas proceeded to come down on Laker Michael Cooper’s foot. In doing so he badly sprained his right ankle and had to be helped off of the floor. Only a mere 35 seconds elapsed from the game clock when Thomas hobbled back onto the floor.

He went on to score a record 25 points in one quarter. After trailing by 8 in the third the Pistons were up 2 going into the fourth quarter. They held on to win game 6 to clinch the championship. Thomas scored 43 points, handed out 8 assists, and recorded six steals.

2. LeBron James vs. the Pistons (Game 5 of the 2007 playoffs)

LeBron was a officially a superstar after this playoff game in 2007. His team was battling the Pistons in the Eastern Conferance finals and losing by a score of 81-88 with about three minutes left in the game.  The series was tied 2 games each and had reached very pivotal point.

In those remaining minutes, James went on to tie the game and send it in to overtime. He followed that up by scoring every point for the Cavaliers in the first overtime. The score stayed tied and went into a second overtime period.

James scored all of the team’s points in that one as well. To cap it off James, scored on a lay up to win the game and put the Cavs one win away from a finals appearance. In total he scored the final 25 points for his team and the final 29 of 30. He finished with 48 points and became the icon he is today.

1. Michael Jordan vs. the Jazz (Game 5 of the 1997 finals)

The series between the Bulls and the Jazz was tied at two games a piece. Before the beginning of the fifth game Michael Jordan was pleagued with a stomach virus and flu-like symptoms. He decided to give his team everything he had in his depleated body.

In a game in which just playing itself was a feat, Jordan went on to lead all scorers with 38 points, but more importantly the Bulls won. Jordan was void of all character during his performance. He staggered around at times and seemed to be a step away from ending up on the floor.  He persevered to put on the greatest showing in NBA playoff history.

Leave a Comment

  1. anonymous says:

    Where was Duncan's finals in 2003 where he got 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 8 blocked shots?

  2. Wardell says:

    Great list I say

  3. NoQuarter says:

    Shaq is number 6 with 28-20-9-8 in a game 2 victory.

    Duncan is not mentioned with 21-20-10-8 in a championship clinching win.


  4. Throwbacks says:

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  5. Sage says:

    What?! Shaq playing against a more equal playing field!?? Yeah…only because he was much lower in talent & closer to the hundreds of scrubs in the NBA in the 21st Century than Wilt's talent level allowed. With the ticky tack fouls they call now, in order to facilitate higher scoring, wilt wouldve averaged probably 60 a game.

  6. Sage says:

    D-Wade vs Dallas is #1. This is foolish.

  7. Mikey_305 says:

    Thank you "Sage"… the fact that you don't even have Wade on this list is beyond absurd. he still holds the 2nd highest shooting percentage in the FINALS and of course the player ahead of him holding 1st place is MJ.

    But of course Lebron gets #2.

    Saddest article Ive ever read

  8. Lakers are going to win this final! Game 1 has been won and Gasol has surely proven himself. Gooo Lakers!
    animated smileys