Jul. 15, 2020
Top 15 NBA Finals Performances of All Time
Of all the points during the NBA season where there is some sort of pressure, the NBA Finals clearly has the most. The NBA Finals is the most important stage for a team in basketball; to win is to be crowned as the best team in the league and cements a spot as one of the best teams in league history.
Being a complete team is incredibly important and can boost a team when on their quest for a championship. Sometimes, though, a star player’s incredible performance in the NBA Finals can help lead the team to the coveted title.
These are the top 15 NBA Finals performances of all time.
15. LeBron James, 2015
After losing Kevin Love earlier in the playoffs and Kyrie Irving after one game, LeBron James stepped up in the way you would expect him to, as the best player in the world. James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 1.3 steals in the 4-2 series loss. Andre Iguodala was given FMVP for “slowing down” James, holding him to 39.8% shooting.
14. Hakeem Olajuwon, 1995
In a four-game sweep of the Shaquille O’Neal-led Magic, Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 32.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks per game. This was a tightly contested series, with no game being decided by more than 12 points (3, 11, 2, 12 were the margin of victories), but Olajuwon’s dominance helped his team win each game.
13. Jerry West, 1969
Though Jerry West lost in the Finals, he became the first player to ever win Finals MVP as a member of the losing team. West averaged 37.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 7.4 assists on 49% shooting, and in game 7 put up 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists. West very clearly deserves the FMVP trophy.
12. LeBron James, 2017
Even though LeBron James and the Cavaliers lost to the Warriors in five games, it is extremely hard to blame James. James became the first player in league history to average a triple-double in the Finals, putting up 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1 block on 56.4% shooting.
11. Larry Bird, 1986
While Larry Bird had some pretty incredible teammates, he still was the best player on the floor for the Celtics. Bird nearly averaged a triple-double, putting up 24 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.5 assists, and 2.7 steals on 48.2% shooting from the field. While the Rockets put up a good fight, there was nobody on the Rockets who could stop Larry Legend.
10. Elgin Baylor, 1962
Baylor played incredibly well in the 1962 NBA Finals, averaging 40.6 points, 17.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game for the Lakers (scoring 61 points, an NBA Finals record, in one of the wins). While the Lakers lost in 7 games to the Boston Celtics, Baylor still played out of his mind.
9. Bill Walton, 1977
Bill Walton had full control of the 1977 NBA Finals, putting up 18.5 points, 19 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1 steal, and 3.7 blocks per game on 54.5% shooting. While Julius Erving played incredibly well for the 76ers, Walton’s all-around series is why his performance will be remembered throughout NBA history.
8. Shaquille O’Neal, 2001
In the second NBA Finals with the Lakers, O’Neal put up similarly dominant numbers, putting up 33 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 3.4 blocks on 57.3% shooting. After beating the Pacers in 6 games in 2000, the O’Neal-led Lakers beat the Philadelphia 76ers in only 5 games in 2001.
7. Tim Duncan, 2003
In 2003, a 26-year-old Tim Duncan put up the performance of his life, putting up 24.2 points, 17 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1 steal and 5.3 blocks a game against the Nets. Nobody else on the Spurs played even half as well as Duncan during the series, yet Duncan’s dominance propelled the Spurs to a 4-2 series win.
6. Bill Russell, 1962
Bill Russell had arguably his best NBA Finals in 1962, averaging 22.9 points, 27 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game while shooting 54.3% from the field. Russell’s incredibly clutch 30 points, 40 rebounds, and 4 assists in Game 7 helped the Celtics secure the win over the Lakers.
5. Magic Johnson, 1987
In the 1987 NBA Finals, Magic Johnson was by far the best player on the court. Johnson averaged 26.2 points, 8 rebounds, 13 assists, and 2.3 steals per game on 54.1% shooting from the field and 96% from the line. Johnson thoroughly outplayed and stole the spotlight from rival Larry Bird during this series.
4. Michael Jordan, 1991
In Michael Jordan’s first NBA Finals, he averaged 31.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 11.4 assists, 2.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game, doing so on 55.8/50/84.8 shooting splits. While other players in this series had great stat lines, Jordan was very clearly a cut above the rest, leading his team to a 4-1 Finals win.
3. Shaquille O’Neal, 2000
Shaquille O’Neal absolutely dominated the 2000 NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers, averaging an incredible 38 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.7 blocks on 61% shooting. O’Neal was by far the best player on the floor, as nobody else in the series even averaged 25 points, 10.1 rebounds, or 1.5 blocks.
2. LeBron James, 2016
In 2016, LeBron James was the major reason that the Cleveland Cavaliers were able to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. In doing so, James became the first player ever to lead a playoff series in points (29.7), rebounds (11.3), assists (8.9), steals (2.6), and blocks (2.3).
1. Michael Jordan, 1993
In a 4-2 series win over the Charles Barkley-led Suns, Michael Jordan averaged 41 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.7 steals on 50.8% shooting. Jordan scored an incredible 246 points in this series, over 80 more than second-place Charles Barkley, who had 164. If this isn’t dominant, I don't know what is.
LeBron James, 2018
In his second big loss in a row to the dynasty Warriors, James had another fantastic Finals series, averaging 34 points, 8.5 rebounds, 10 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1 block on 52.7% shooting. Furthermore, James played the last three games of the series with a broken hand and was still able to put up incredible numbers.
Wilt Chamberlain, 1964
Though his team lost 4-1 in the 1964 NBA Finals to the Celtics, Wilt Chamberlain had an incredible series. He averaged 29.2 points, 27.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists on 51.7% shooting. His biggest accomplishment, though, could be holding Bill Russell to just 11 points on under 39% shooting from the field.