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Top 30 NBA Finals Performances of All-Time

Posted on June 25, 2012 at 9:05 PM

By now, if you don’t appreciate Lebron James’ magical all-around performance in the 2012 NBA Finals, you need to start appreciating it, or you need to stop calling yourself a basketball fan. Some people are going to overreact and say that we can compare him to Michael Jordan, and some people will blow it off out of spite towards Lebron and say that he got too much help from his supporting cast. I took it upon myself to figure out where exactly Lebron’s performance stands in basketball history by ranking the top 30 performances ever in the NBA Finals.

• Statistics are in the order “Points – Assists – Rebounds”

• A specific player’s ranking is based on (1) his all-around performance (i.e. How many different things was the player brining to the table), (2) the extent to which he dominated the games, (3) any iconic moments / stand-out performances / game-winners / pressure situations, (4) the strength of both the opposing team and the player’s supporting cast

• I left out all years before the 1957 because comparing today’s basketball game to short white guys shooting set shots with no shot clock simply shouldn’t be done.

• I put in a bunch of links to the players' best plays, so enjoy!



30. Joe Dumars 1989 (Detroit Pistons 4 – Portland Trailblazers 1): 27.3 – 1.8 – 6, 58% field goal shooting

29. Kareem Abdul Jabbar 1985 (Los Angeles Lakers 4 – Boston Celtics 2) 25.7 – 5.2 – 9, 1.5 blocks, 60% field goal shooting, age 38

28. Kobe Bryant 2009 (Los Angeles Lakers 4 – Orlando Magic 1): 32.4 – 7.4 – 5.6

27. Moses Malone 1983 (Philadelphia 76ers 4 – Los Angeles Lakers 0): 25.8 – 2 – 18, 6.8 offensive rebounds

26. Bill Russell 1965 (Boston Celtics 4 – Los Angeles Lakes 1): 17.8 points, 26.5 rebounds, 70% field goal shooting

25. Walt Frazier 1970 (New York Knicks 4 – Los Angeles Lakers 3): 17.6 – 10.4 – 7.7, 54% field goal percentage

- Everyone remembers Willis Reed limping out of the tunnel with an injured knee in game 7 and scoring two early baskets to send Madison Square Garden into hysterics. However, it was Frazier who scored 36 points, dished out 19 assists, and grabbed 7 rebounds, and got 5 steals. Admittedly, there was no way the Knicks were going to lose after Willis hit those first two jumpers, but nonetheless, Frazier was incredible.

24. Larry Bird 1984 (Boston Celtics 4 – Los Angeles Lakers 3): 27.4 – 3.6 – 14

- Going up against Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who were all playing the best basketball of their careers, Bird led the Celtics in scoring and rebounding by large margins to carry them past the tough competition.

23. Dirk Nowitzki 2011 (Dallas Mavericks 4 – Miami Heat 2) 26 - 2 – 9.7, 98% free throw shooting

- In the last five minutes of games in which the score differential was no more than five (i.e. “Crunch Time"), Dirk scored 26 points, shot 8/13 from the field, and scored two game-winning layups

22. Michael Jordan 1998 (Chicago Bulls 4 – Utah Jazz 2): 33.5 - 2.3 - 4

- After shooting an abysmal 42% from the field for the first five games of the series, Jordan scored 45 points and had the greatest clutch sequence in NBA history (a driving layup, a steal, and a game winning jumper) to close out the Jazz on the road in game 6.


21. Kareem Abdul Jabbar 1971 (Milwaukee Bucks 4 – Baltimore Bullets 0): 27 – 2.8 - 18.5, 61% field goal shooting

20. Magic Johnson 1980 (Los Angeles Lakers 4 – Philadelphia 76ers 2): 21.5 – 8.7 – 11.2, 2.7 steals, 57% field goal shooting

- When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went down due to injury in game 5, everybody counted out the Lakers. However, Magic, as a rookie, stepped up with an enormous 42-point, 7-assist, 15-rebound effort in game 6 in which he played all five positions.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar 1980: 33.4 – 3.2 - 13.6, 4.6 blocks

- Magic stole the show, but there’s a reason that fans were so worried when Kareem got injured – he was the Lakers’ best player and he dominated the first four games of the series.


19. Shaquille O’Neal 2000: 38 – 2.3 - 16.7, 2.7 blocks, 61% FG

- Obviously the statistics are staggering (that’s an understatement), but there are several reasons why this performance isn’t higher on the list. First, the most memorable moment of the series happened after O’Neal fouled out in game 4 and Kobe Bryant took over in overtime and gave the Lakers a 3-1 series lead. Secondly, Shaq shot a ton of free throws in the series (the Pacers intentionally fouled him a lot), but he only made a horrendous 39% from the line. Lastly, who did the Pacers have to guard him? Rik Smits? Austin Croshere? Dale Davis? The competition was weak.

18. Rick Barry 1975 (Golden State Warriors 4 – Washington Bullets 0): 29.5 – 5 – 4, 3.5 steals, 94% free throw shooting

- In a series in which the Bullets were expected by many to sweep the Warriors, Rick Barry took over and flipped the script, helping the Warriors sweep the Bullets. Barry scored 18 points per game more than the next highest Golden State scorer and also led the team in assists and steals.

17. Isaiah Thomas 1990 (Detroit Pistons 4 – Portland Trailblazers 1): 27.6 – 7 – 5.2, 54% field goal shooting, 69% three-point shooting

16. Hakeem Olajuwon 1995 (Houston Rockets 4 – Orlando Magic 0): 32.8 – 5.5 - 11.5, 2 steals and 2 blocks, 48% field goal shooting

- He scored 30 points in four consecutive games going up against Shaquille O’Neal… enough said. Actually, I had the pleasure of watching the final game of this series on NBA TV quite recently, and in the second half, Hakeem got bored of scoring so easily, so he started putting on ridiculous double dream-shake moves where he’d pivot around twice and then nail a fall-away 15-footer. Then, when he got tired of that, he even knocked down a three-pointer just for fun.

15. Michael Jordan 1992 (Chicago Bulls 4 – Portland Trailblazers 2): 35.8 – 6.5 – 4.8, 53% field goal shooting

- This was a series full of ups and downs for Jordan. In game 2, he was called for a technical foul late in the fourth quarter that helped the Blazers complete a comeback win. However, he had two monster games, one of which a 35-point first half in game 1 including six three pointers, and the other a 46-point outing in the pivotal game 5.


14. Bill Walton 1977 (Portland Trailblazers 4 – Philadelphia 76ers 2): 18.5 – 5.2 - 19, 3.7 blocks, 55% field goal shooting

- Although the ’77 Trailblazers were a team based on an incredibly balanced scoring attack (four players averaged between 16 and 20 points in the Finals), Walton still stuffed the stat sheet in the close-out game 6 with 20 points, 8 assists, 23 rebounds, and 7 blocks!


13. Bill Russell 1963 (Boston Celtics 4 – Los Angeles Lakers 2): 20 – 5.3 – 26

- Besides the statistics, Russell did so many intangibles for his Celtics (blocked shots, defense toughness, pick-setting, running the floor on fast-breaks, emotional leadership, passing)

12. Shaquille O’Neal 2002 (Los Angeles Lakers 4 – New Jersey Nets 0): 36.2 – 3.8 – 12.3, 60% field goal shooting

- It almost wasn’t fair how overpowering Shaq was from 2001 to 2002. He outweighed everyone on the court by almost 100 pounds, was more nimble than any 350-pounder ever, and finished nearly everything from within 10 feet of the basket.

11. Shaquille O’Neal 2001 (Los Angeles Lakers 4 – Philadelphia 76ers 1): 33 – 4.8 - 15.8, 3.4 blocks, 57% field goal shooting

- Philadelphia signed Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo specifically to guard Shaq in case they faced him in the Finals… let’s just say it didn’t exactly pan out.

10. Wilt Chamberlain 1967 (Philadelphia 76ers 4 – San Francisco Warriors 2): 16.7 – 6.8 - 28.4, a lot of blocks (unofficially 15 blocks in game 4), 56% field goal shooting

- Wilt finally won a championship in the year that he figured out that he didn’t have to score to be a great player. While his points dropped, his assist and rebounding totals skyrocketed, and his defense improved. He finally got past Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and then played great defense on Hall-of-Fame center Nate Thurmond in the Finals to help the 76ers take the title.

The scoring boost Philadelphia got from all-stars Chet Walker, Billy Cunningham, and Hal Greer, along with Chamberlain’s catastrophically horrific 22/72 from the free throw line minimize what was the most dominant player of his era in his prime (physically, and in terms of basketball IQ)

Hakeem Olajuwon 1994 (Houston Rockets 4 – New York Knicks 3): 26.9 – 3.6 – 9.1, 3.9 blocks, 50% field goal shooting

- The stats aren’t off the charts (pretty close though), but Hakeem outscored Knicks’ Hall-of-Fame center Patrick Ewing in all seven games of the series. He also made a game-saving block on John Starks in game 6 to extend the series and keep the Rockets’ hopes alive. And all other things aside, when you win a championship with a starting lineup of Sam Cassell, Vernon Maxwell, Robert Horry, and Otis Thorpe, you’ve got to be high on any list.

8. Michael Jordan 1997 (Chicago Bulls 4 – Utah Jazz 2): 32.3- 6 – 7, 46% field goal shooting

- So much great stuff from Jordan in this series: His game-winning buzzer-beater in game 1, his 38-point performance with the flu in game 5, and 39 points in the close-out game 6 to go along with the game-winning assist to Steve Kerr.

7. Larry Bird 1986 (Boston Celtics 4 – Houston Rockets 2): 24 – 9.5 – 9.7, 2.7 steals, 48% field goal shooting, 94% free throw shooting

- While the key to the ’86 Celtics’ success was their unrivaled team chemistry, 1986 was also the season in which Larry Bird maximized his potential and displayed some of the best passing and rebounding of his career. He capped off the Finals with a triple double in the game 6 clincher.

6. Magic Johnson 1987 (Los Angeles Lakers 4 – Boston Celtics 2): 26.2 – 13 – 8, 2.3 steals, 54% field goal shooting, 96% free throw shooting

- Not only did Magic run the show from the point guard position, but he also spent a lot of his time in the low post, and led the Lakers in rebounding, in addition to scoring, assists, and steals. He made all the big plays in final minute of game 4, dishing out back-to-back assists, and then hitting his iconic sky hook across the middle.

5. Lebron James 2012 (Miami Heat 4 – Oklahoma City Thunder 1): 28.6 – 7.4 – 10.2, 47% field goal shooting

- We already know what happened. Lebron turned into a more athletic version of ’86 Larry Bird and ’87 Magic Johnson. Like Magic, James also led his team in points, assists, and rebounds. Like Bird, James closed out the series with a triple-double. Similarly to both of them, he excelled as a big man, attacking the basket with no regard for Serge Ibaka’s feelings, getting easy dunks off of cuts through the middle, and passing out of double-teams that came his way in the post.

4. Michael Jordan 1993 (Chicago Bulls 4 – Phoenix Suns 2): 41 – 6.3 – 8.5, 51% field goal shooting

- In a strange series in which the home team won only one out of six games, Jordan faced the single toughest opposing player that he had to face in a Finals, Charles Barkley. He came through and outplayed Chuck by ripping off four consecutive 40-point games, including at 55 point outburst in game 4.


3. Michael Jordan 1991 (Chicago Bulls 4 – Los Angeles Lakers 1): 31.2 – 11.4 – 6.6, 2.8 steals, 1.4 blocks, 56% field goal shooting

- Considering the spectacular field goal percentage, his assist numbers, his defense, and his famous switch-hands layup, this was Jordan’s best all-around Finals.

2. Dwyane Wade 2006 (Miami Heat 4 – Dallas Mavericks 2): 34.7 - 3.8 - 7.8, 2.7 steals, 47% field goal shooting, 16.2 free throw attempts

- In only his third season in the league, Wade forced his teammate Shaq to take a backseat in the last four games of these Finals. Down 2-0 in games and down 13 points late in the fourth quarter of game 3, Wade exploded for 12 points in the final six minutes to get the Heat back into the series. Then, in game 5, he sent made the game tying field goal AND the game winning free throws. The combination of Wade’s furious attacks to the basket and the referees overwhelmed Dallas (he only got the game winning free throws of game 5 after he shoved a defender to the ground, then drove to the rim and happened to land awkwardly enough for the refs to call a foul, even though he wasn’t touched)

The scoring average will blow you away once you consider that (a) nobody else on Miami averaged more than 14 points per game, and Wade led the team in scoring in every single game (b) the series featured two great defenses, and the tempo was slow (neither team topped 100 points in regulation during the entire series), (c) Wade did the bulk of his scoring in the fourth quarter, when Dallas was double-teaming him on nearly every play.


1) Tim Duncan 2003 (San Antonio Spurs 4 – New Jersey Nets 2): 24.2 - 5.3 - 17, 5.3 blocks, 50% field goal shooting


- Now I know you probably think I’m crazy, but before you quit this window and never read my blog again, give me a chance to explain myself. First, he had a greater defensive impact on a series than any player since Bill Russell. He recorded 32 blocked shots in the series (an all-time record for the Finals), held the Nets’ all-star forward Kenyon Martin to a disastrous 34% from the field, and was the major reason (if not the only reason) that New Jersey didn’t score more than 89 in any of the six games.

Then, he probably had an even greater impact on offense for a Spurs team that had only one other player averaging more than 11 points per game. After Duncan, San Antonio’s next six highest scorers were Tony Parker (in his second NBA season, shot 39% from the field in the series and dished out only four assists per game as the point guard), David Robinson (37 years old, contributed less than four baskets a game), Stephen Jackson (shot 38% from the field in the series), Manu Ginobili (shot 35% from the field in the series), Malik Rose (shot 44% from the field in the series as a power forward), and Speedy Claxton (I think you get the point). What a team!! To nobody’s surprise, Duncan led the Spurs in points, assists, rebounds, and minutes.

In game 6, when the Nets took a double-digit lead early in the first quarter, San Antonio started running literally every single offensive possession through Duncan in the post. Duncan came through with a 21-point, 10-assist, 20-rebound, 10-block (he only officially got credit for eight, but the video clearly shows that he had ten) performance to seal the deal.

While you could argue that this can’t be #1 because the average basketball fan doesn’t remember a thing about the 2003 NBA Finals, I would say that from great statistics, to strong competition at his position, to one single dominant game, Tim Duncan ’03 had it all (except for a decent supporting cast)


Honorable Mention (Best performances in a loss)


Rick Barry 1967

Jerry West 1969

Julius Erving 1977

Julius Erving 1980

Hakeem Olajuwon 1986

Larry Bird 1987

Clyde Drexler 1990

Charles Barkley 1993

Kevin Durant 2012

Please comment and share your opinion!


Categories: Top 10, Statistics

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Reply Lev to Seth
11:57 PM on June 25, 2012 
Yea, besides the game 7, he only averaged 14.5 - 9 - 7, which is good, but Pippen did that several times and he didn't make the list. So Frazier really only got on there for one game, and that's why he's lower down
Reply Seth
11:42 PM on June 25, 2012 
Great article. I'm partial to Clyde Frazier, but you convinced me that 25 performances were better.