Some NBA Finals series come to an end with a sweep, while others go seven games. In each and in everything in between, there’s a player whose performance in the closeout game is the turning point. Part of the reason the public is so interested still in the Oklahoma City-Miami series is because of LeBron James’ reputation as a non-factor in “clutch” situations. This may be the most anticipated Game 5 of a 3-1 series ever — has there ever been a series this seemingly over that’s still been considered as wide open?
Tonight could, once and for all, cement LeBron’s legacy as a champion. Maybe it will prolong a great series, meaning another day will become the chance to see an all-time great closeout game. We’ll see if it becomes a legendary performance on the level of these 10 closeout performances.
10. RAY ALLEN, 2008
Game 6 over the Lakers was a blowout party at TD Garden, one ensured by Allen’s huge night from behind the arc. While his performance was buttressed by Kevin Garnett‘s 26 points and 14 rebounds, Paul Pierce‘s 17 points and 10 rebounds and Rajon Rondo‘s 21 points, Allen was the king. The all-time three-point champion knocked down 7-of-9 from deep for 26 points in 32 minutes to seal another Boston title over L.A.
9. DWYANE WADE, 2006
Coming all the way back from an 0-2 hole was going to be memorable no matter how it was accomplished. Wade, however, made sure his performance in Game 6 over Dallas morphed him from young star to league’s elite. His 36 points, 10 boards, five assists, four steals and three blocks in a 95-92 win came in 45 minutes. He didn’t shoot a three the entire game, choosing to drive at every opportunity. He got 21 free-throw attempts (Dallas as a whole had 23) out of it and made 16.
8. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL, 2000
A series that was closer than everyone remembers finished just as dominating as once thought. O’Neal was at his top beast form to drop the Pacers, 116-111, in Game 6 behind 41 points and 12 rebounds. He went on to win series MVP honors as the Lakers won their first title since 1988. Indiana had 29 points from Jalen Rose and 24 from Reggie Miller, but its inside presence of Rik Smits was a dull blade compared with O’Neal’s unstoppable force. Can youuuu dig it?
7. MICHAEL JORDAN, 1997
The game after the Flu Game was nothing to snuff at, either. Jordan took down the Jazz in six games for his fifth title overall by dropping 39 points and 11 rebounds with just one turnover to win 90-86. Jordan’s assist was the biggest play of the game, though. Instead of forcing a shot against a double team of Bryon Russell and John Stockton on the game’s penultimate possession, he sucked in a second defender and kicked to a wide-open Steve Kerr for the insurance three.
6. WALT FRAZIER, 1970
Willis Reed‘s famous two buckets began this Game 7 after he walked onto the court with a limp and a stare that turned Wilt Chamberlain into a ghost. Once he walked off the court after his four points, however, it was Clyde’s game. He scored 22 points in the first half and would shoot the Knicks to a 20-point lead. The game wasn’t in doubt because of his maestro-like work by pouring in 36 points, 19 assists and seven rebounds in all. Reed and Frazier were the knockout bookends to this classic Game 7, the first of two titles for the Old Knicks in the 1970s.
5. LARRY BIRD, 1986
In our 2012 tunnel vision we believe Rajon Rondo is what a playoff triple double means for the Celtics’ franchise. Bird’s, however, came in the most important game of the season, Game 6, to hold off the Houston Rockets, 114-97. He scored 29 points, with 11 rebounds and 12 assists in 46 minutes, and hit 11-of-12 from the free-throw line.
4. BILL RUSSELL, 1966
To beat the Lakers in Game 7 95-93, Russell had to have a huge game to offset Jerry West’s 36-point, 10-rebound night. West, in a losing effort, would actually become series MVP, but Russell won another title behind this line: 25 points and 32 rebounds.
3. JAMES WORTHY, 1988
A series against the Detroit Bad Boys that went seven games was capped by a player worthy of a huge game. That is, you can count James Worthy‘s 36-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist masterpiece â€” in a tight, 108-105 win that needed every point â€” as perhaps the best closeout performance. Worthy played a game-high 44 minutes (Isiah Thomas played just 28) but didn’t use all the time to score by volume: he shot 15-of-22 en route to the title at The Forum.
What makes this game stand out was the pure animosity between Detroit and L.A., a clash of styles â€” one of grace, one of grit â€” that placed this series in the public consciousness as less a basketball series but a referendum on the game itself. Detroit would get their titles later, of course, but Worthy â€” the old guard who represented the Lakers’ transition brilliance â€” turning in this performance was perfect for the series it was.
2. MICHAEL JORDAN, 1998
One of Jordan’s many masterstrokes over his career was his Game 6 win at Utah. If you’re racking your brain to remember this one, just think about this: It’s the Bryon Russell game. Jordan scored 45 points in the 87-86 win. He had just one turnover in 44 minutes and, hey, even if he only had one rebound and one assist in this game, I think it’s forgivable. Don’t forget this line in his stats, though: his four steals included a late strip of Karl Malone, which led to the game-winning, generation-defining bucket at the other end.
1. MAGIC JOHNSON, 1980
In his rookie season Magic became a legend with this performance all while playing out of position. The Lakers turned to Johnson to replace Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game 6 in Philadelphia, the latter out with an ankle injury. All Johnson did was score 42 points, grab 15 rebounds, have seven assists and play five different spots on the floor for Paul Westhead. There are historic playoff performances such as LeBron James‘ Game 6 in Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals that harken back to Chamberlain, and then there’s Magic’s Game 6.
What’s the best?
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