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The 10 Best Individual Performances In NBA Playoff History

Did you see Kevin Durant last night? If you didn’t, go back and watch the tape. Legend status. In one of the biggest games of his career, the MVP overcame a slow start to post one of those statlines (39 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, five three-pointers and two blocks) you can’t turn away from. Yet as great as KD was, that performance probably doesn’t come close to the best we’ve ever seen.

On the cusp of the Western Conference Finals, I broke down ten of the greatest individual games in NBA Playoff history.

Honorable Mentions

Wilt Chamberlain, 1962 Eastern Conference Semifinals
56 points, 35 rebounds

Shaquille O’Neal, 2000 NBA Finals, Game 1
43 points, 21-of-31 FG, 19 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks

Tim Duncan, 2003 NBA Finals, Game 1
32 points, 11-of-17 FG, 20 rebounds, 6 assists, 7 blocks, 3 steals

Dirk Nowitzki, 2011 Western Conference Finals, Game 1
48 points, 12-of-15 FG, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 blocks

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1974 Western Conference Finals, Game 2
44 points, 20-of-29 FG, 21 rebounds

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10. Charles Barkley
1994 Western Conference First Round, Game 3
56 points, 23-of-31 FG, 14 rebounds

Charles Barkley tied one of Michael Jordan’s performances for the second-most points scored in a single playoff game in the modern era when he poured in 56 against the Warriors in the 1994 Playoffs. Chuck shot an insane 74.2 percent from the field while adding four assists, three steals and one block as Phoenix defeated Golden State, 140-133.

9. Elgin Baylor
1962 NBA Finals, Game 5
61 points, 22 rebounds

Elgin Baylor terrorized the Celtics throughout his career, but his most memorable game against the Lakers’ rival may have came early on in his career. In Game 5 of the title round against Boston, the high-flying small forward exploded, scoring an NBA Finals record 61 points and grabbing 22 boards. Baylor was skying for rebounds, knocking down shots and throwing down dunks over the great Bill Russell.

(Check out 7:44)

8. James Worthy
1988 NBA Finals, Game 7
36 points, 15-of-22 FG, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals

There is nothing in sport bigger than Game 7, and Big Game James took over on basketball’s largest stage en route to the Lakers’ third championship in a four-year span. His remarkable triple-double is one of the most memorable Finals performances of all time.

7. Bill Russell
1962 NBA Finals, Game 7
30 points, 40 rebounds

To capture their fourth consecutive NBA Finals title, the Celtics needed a big Game 7 performance–and they got it from Bill Russell. The all-timer scored 30 points but his biggest contribution may have come in the rebounding department, where he grabbed 40 boards, which still stands as an NBA Finals record.

6. Hakeem Olajuwon
1986 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 6
49 points, 19-of-33 FG, 25 rebounds, six blocks

Despite Houston’s double-overtime loss to Seattle, Hakeem Olajuwon may have had the most impressive big man performance in the history of the playoffs. He clearly carried the Rockets as no teammate scored 20 or more points, while playing 53 minutes and chipping in with two steals and two assists.

5. LeBron James
2007 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 5
48 points, 18-of-33 FG, nine rebounds, seven assists

Prior to his championship days in Miami with sidekicks Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to help him, LeBron James was essentially a one-man show in Cleveland. Against the Detroit Pistons on the verge of the Finals, LBJ performed like only a King could. He scored 25 consecutive points for his team and 29 of his team’s last 30 points to lead the Cavs past the Pistons in double-overtime, including the game-winning layup with just 2.2 seconds remaining.

4. Isiah Thomas
1988 NBA Finals, Game 6
43 points, 18-of-32 FG, eight assists, six steals

Pound for pound, inch for inch, Isiah Thomas is arguably the greatest player of all time. At 6-1 and about 180 pounds, “Zeke” played rough and tough and gave it all he had each and every night. This was evident in the 1988 Finals against the Lakers when Thomas severely sprained his ankle in the third quarter. Yet he returned to the game just a few minutes later and somehow ended up producing a 25-point quarter for the ages.

3. Michael Jordan
1986 Eastern Conference First Round, Game 2
63 points, 22-of-41 FG, five rebounds, six assists

“I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan,” Larry Bird said following MJ’s 63-point performance against the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 1986 Playoffs.

Jordan was sidelined for the majority of the season with a broken foot and returned to help get the Bulls to the playoffs, but Bird and the Celtics swept Chicago before eventually winning the title that season… though Jordan’s 63 points still stands as an NBA Playoff record.

2. Michael Jordan, 1997 NBA Finals, Game 5
38 points, 13-of-27 FG, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals

Michael Jordan made a name for himself off heroic performances, none as impressive as his iconic “Flu Game” in the 1997 NBA Finals. With the series tied 2-2 against the Utah Jazz, MJ–clearly ill–opted to play, which was a surprise to almost everybody.

“The way he looked, there’s no way I thought he could even put on his uniform,” Scottie Pippen said. “I’d never seen him like that. He looked bad–I mean really bad.”

Not only did Jordan typically make his presence felt on the court, but he dominated, including knocking down a tie-breaking three-pointer with under one minute remaining in the fourth quarter.

1. Magic Johnson
1980 NBA Finals, Game 6
42 points, 14-of-14 FT, 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals

He didn’t even know which foot to put in the tip-off circle.

We all knew Magic Johnson’s skills at the point guard position, but with MVP big man Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out with an ankle injury in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, the rookie had to step in unfamiliar territory–the center position.

At just 20 years of age, Magic looked as poised as a 15-year veteran. He acted as some sort of point-forward-center, dishing off the basketball, scoring at a high-pace and grabbing rebounds over bigger, more experienced players.

As the final buzzer sounded, Magic’s final line of 42 points, 14-of-14 from the free throw line, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals is the most dominate NBA Playoff performance we have ever seen.

What do you think?

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