10 greatest individual playoff performances in NBA history
When it comes to competitive sports, few others compare to the intensity of the NBA Playoffs. As such, this annual event has brought about some of the most memorable individual performances in the history of the sport. As they say, the best of them shine when the lights are the brightest. Below we take a look at 10 of the most epic performances in NBA Playoffs basketball through the years.
Walt Frazier (New York Knicks – 1970 Finals)
Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals pitted the New York Knicks against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Puprle & Gold had Wilt Chamberlain, and were poised to win the title. Walt Frazier was having none of that. He led the Knicks with 36 points and 19 assists, as New York lifted their first ever championship in franchise history.
Charles Barkley (Phoenix Suns – 1993 Western Conference Finals)
The great Charles Barkley arguably had the best season of his career during his MVP-winning 1992-93 campaign. Come playoffs time, he took it to another level. Case in point is his unforgettable performance against the Seattle SuperSonics in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The future Hall of Famer finished that one with an astounding 43-point, 15-rebound, and 10-assist triple-double to lead his side to vuctory.
Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls – 1986 Playoffs, First Round)
If you saw the second episode of ESPN’s The Last Dance, then you definitely know about this epic MJ performance. His 63-point outing against Larry Bird and the Celtics in the 1986 Playoffs is Jordan’s career playoff-high. While the Bulls still lost that game (and the series), this performance proved to the basketball world that Jordan was simply unlike anybody else we’ve seen before.
Shaquille O’Neal (Los Angeles Lakers – 2001 Playoffs, Second Round)
The Los Angeles Lakers dominated the early 2000’s as they won back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002. This was thanks in large part to the dynamic duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. For the former, his most dominant showing in the postseason came in the 2001 second round against the Sacramento Kings. Shaq casually dropped 44 points, 21 rebounds, and seven blocks to lift his side to a victory.
Bill Russell (Boston Celtics – 1962 Finals)
The stage could not be any higher: Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics against the Los Angeles Lakers. The great Bill Russell stepped up to the plate for an astounding 30-point, 40-rebound performance, which to this day, remains to be a Finals record for the most rebounds in a single game. This epic battle went into three overtimes before the Celtics finally got the victory, as well as the championship.
Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia Warriors – 1962 Playoffs, First Round)
Wilt Chamberlain is most well known for his 100-point game — a scoring record that will probably never be broken. He did this during the 1961-62 season, during which he averaged a mind-boggling 50.4 points per game. A couple of weeks later, the 7-foot-1 big man would log arguably his best playoff performance of his career. In a deciding Game 5 of the first round against the Syracuse Nationals, Chamberlain dropped a monster 56-point, 35-rebound effort. Much like his 100-point game, that’s a type of stat line that we’ll probably never see ever again.
LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers – 2007 Playoffs, Second Round)
LeBron James has been to more than a few playoff battles in his illustrious careers, but perhaps none more memorable than what he did in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Detroit Pistons. With the Cavs down in the fourth period, James turned on a switch. He ended up scoring 25 consecutive points (and 29 out of the Cavs’ last 30 points) for his team to force the game into double overtime. As far as clutch performances go, this has to be the one.
Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets – 1987 Playoffs, Second Round)
Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon is considered as one of the greatest big men of all time. One of the best outings of his career came in the 1987 Playoffs in a second-round meeting against the Seattle SuperSonics. With the Sonics up 3-2 in the series, the Rockets had their backs against the wall in this win-or-go-home matchup. Olajuwon did everything he could to help his side to a victory, but unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be. Despite his 49-point, 25-rebound, 6-block performance, Seattle still emerged victorious, closing out the series 4-2.
Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls – 1997 NBA Finals)
The ever-famous “Flu Game.” Almost any basketball fan has come across this memorable Michael Jordan performance, but not all probably remember that he did this at the biggest stage — the NBA Finals. Jordan’s Chicago Bulls were up against the Utah Jazz in the Finals, and prior to Game 5, the future Hall of Famer suddenly contracted a mysterious flu. That did not stop him from coming out with one of the most impressive performances of his entire career. The Bulls won that game, and also took Game 6 in Chicago, en route to their fifth title in six years.
Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers – 1980 NBA Finals)
This one has got to take the cake for the best individual performance ever in the playoffs. The setting was Game 6 of the Finals against Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. A 20-year-old Magic Johnson was in his rookie year. Lakers starting big man Kareem-Abdul Jabbar had to sit this one out due to injury, so it was a 6-foot-9 Magic who had to fill in at the center position. This resulted in an epic performance, in which Johnson logged 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists. Magic willed the Lakers to a close-out victory to win the championship, as he earned Finals MVP honors.
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