Despite much speculation about whether the NBA season would continue after the COVID-19 pandemic, we are here. After waiting 4 months for the NBA to figure out the safest way to be able to restart the season, we are here. After 22 teams played 176 seeding games to determine playoff positioning, we are here. And after 3 rounds of intense playoff basketball, we are finally here…The NBA Finals.
On Wednesday, the Western Conference Champion Los Angeles Lakers will face off against the Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat. This will be the Lakers’ first NBA Finals appearance since 2010 when Kobe Bryant led the team to their second consecutive championship and 16th franchise trophy after defeating the Boston Celtics in seven games. On the other end, the Heat are making their first Finals appearance since 2014 when they were embarrassed by emerging star Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs. Ironically, Lebron was on the Heat during their loss in 2014 and is now leading a hungry Lakers team ready to make the Mamba proud.
Though the road to the NBA Finals this year is different from those in year’s past, the fact remains that this is an opportunity for the Heat and the Lakers to etch their names in NBA history. The NBA Finals is a place where stars become superstars and superstars become legends. It’s an opportunity for players and teams to immortalize their names and stake their claim as the greatest of all-time. In the NBA’s 70+ years, we have witnessed a number of legendary performances in the NBA Finals. Picking 10 performances that stand out over all others is surely difficult and is sure to cause a debate, but that’s the name of the game. So with that in mind, here are the Top 10 NBA Finals Performances Ever!
Bob Pettit: 1958 NBA Finals, Game 6
(50 PTS, 19 RBS)
Bob Pettit’s performance in the 1958 NBA Finals with the St. Louis Hawks (now Atlanta Hawks) against the Boston Celtics is not talked about much because it was in an era where there were only eight NBA teams, the NBA Finals MVP award did not exist, and the era was dominated by Bill Russell's Celtics (SPOILER! We’ll get to him in a second). However, this was an NBA Finals performance that was historic on so many levels. For starters, Bob Pettit recorded 50 points and 19 rebounds giving him the distinction of being the first player to record 50 points in an NBA Finals game and one of only six players to ever do so. The Hawks won the game 110-109 clinching their first, and to date only, NBA championship in franchise history, and it also made them the only team to beat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals during the Bill Russell era.
Elgin Baylor: 1962 NBA Finals, Game 5
(61 PTS, 22 RBS)
Elgin Baylor is arguably one of the most underrated scorers/players the NBA has ever seen. His scoring ability was on full display in game five of the 1962 NBA Finals as Elgin Baylor finished the game with 61 points and 22 rebounds leading the Lakers to a 126-121 win over the Boston Celtics taking a 3-2 series lead. That gives Elgin Baylor the distinction of being the only player in NBA Finals history to score 60 points in an NBA Finals game. Think of all the great scorers that have ever played in the NBA Finals: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, even Baylor’s long-time teammate Jerry West. None of those players can say they’ve scored 60 points in an NBA Finals. Although, one thing those players have that Baylor does not is a championship to his name and speaking of...
Bill Russell: 1962 NBA Finals, Game 7
(30 PTS, 40 RBS)
Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics responded to their aforementioned game five loss against Elgin Baylor's 61 point explosion, by winning game six 119-105 and forcing a game seven. In-game seven, it was Bill Russell who would have a dominant performance putting together 30 points and 40 rebounds securing a 110-107 win and his fifth championship. The 40 rebounds recorded by Russell are the most by any player in an NBA Finals game and he is the only player to record at least 30 points and 30 rebounds in an NBA Finals game. Bill Russell would go on to win six more championships with the Boston Celtics giving him the most championships of any player in history with 11. Because of his championship success as a player, the NBA named the Finals MVP trophy after Bill Russell (which was created in Russell’s final season in 1969) with him presenting the trophy to the winner of the award at the conclusion of the NBA Finals each year.
Magic Johnson: 1980 NBA Finals, Game 6
(42 PTS, 15 RBS, 7 AST)
This is the game that a rookie Magic Johnson let the world know that this was just the beginning of what would be a legendary career for the 6’9-point guard. Up 3-2 in the NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, Magic and the Lakers looked to close out the series without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who was averaging 33 points per game in the series. With Kareem forced to sit out game six with a sprained ankle, Magic Johnson (normally the team’s starting point guard) took over as the starting center. Magic put on an incredible performance recording 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals leading the Lakers to a 123-107 win and the first of five championships in the 1980s. Magic’s amazing performance led to him winning the Finals MVP award and would go on to claim two more in later NBA Finals.
Michael Jordan: 1997 NBA Finals, Game 5 "The Flu Game"
(38 PTS, 7 RBS, 5 AST)
In Michael Jordan’s six NBA Finals appearances, he put on a number of legendary performances that all deserve to be mentioned. There’s his game one performance against the Trail Blazers in the 1992 NBA Finals where he hit tied a then NBA Finals record with six three-pointers, there’s his 55-point performance in game four of the 1993 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, and even his final game with the Chicago Bulls where he scored 45 points and hit the game-winning shot nicknamed the “Last Shot” to secure his sixth and final NBA championship. While these games were incredible, they do not compare to his performance in game five of the 1997 NBA Finals which has been dubbed “the Flu Game” due to him playing while suffering from food poisoning. Jordan battled through his ailments to record 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals leading the Bulls to a 90-88 win. The Bulls rode the momentum of the win to a closeout game six win securing their fifth of six NBA championships.
Allen Iverson: 2001 NBA Finals, Game 1
(48 PTS, 6 AST)
Allen Iverson was the definition of an underdog in the 2001 NBA season. Iverson won the MVP award after averaging 31.1 points per game and leading the 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 56-26. In the playoffs, he would lead them to their first NBA Finals since 1983 to face the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The Lakers started the 2001 postseason 11-0 sweeping each of their opponents in the first three rounds and were on a 12-game playoff win streak since last season. Allen Iverson helped the 76ers put an end to the Lakers playoff win streak putting up 48 points in a 107-101 overtime win in Staples Center. The most famous moment of the game was when AI hit a stepback jumper over Tyronn Lue then stepped over him as he ran back on defense. Though the Sixers were able to snatch the momentum from the Lakers in game one, things would go downhill very fast from there.
Shaquille O’Neal: 2001 NBA Finals, Game 2
(28 PTS, 20 RBS, 9 AST, 8 BLK)
As previously mentioned, things went downhill fast for the 76ers after their game one win against the Lakers and I mean...very fast...like the next game fast. The Lakers tied the series in game two with a 98-89 win thanks to a dominant performance by their dynamic big man Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq stuffed the stat sheet posting 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists, and eight blocks in the game. Shaq went on to average 33.0 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 3.4 blocks leading the Lakers to their second straight championship and the big man winning his second straight Finals MVP. Shaq is one of only four players to record at least 20 rebounds and eight blocks in an NBA Finals game. The other three players are Bill Walton, Dwight Howard, and Tim Duncan. Speaking of Tim Duncan… (next player)
Tim Duncan: 2003 NBA Finals, Game 6
(21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 AST, 8 BLK)
Tim Duncan’s performance in the 2003 NBA Finals against the New Jersey Nets is one of the greatest all-time as he averaged 24.2 points, 17.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 5.3 blocks in six games. His performance in game six was one of epic proportions as he nearly finished with not only the first-ever NBA Playoff quadruple-double but the first-ever NBA Finals quadruple-double. Duncan finished the game recording 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, and eight blocks. His eight blocks are tied with Bill Walton (who also had an incredible performance in the closeout game of the 1977 NBA Finals) for the most blocks in an NBA Finals closeout game.
Dwyane Wade: 2006 NBA Finals, Game 3
(42 PTS, 13 RBS)
Game three of the 2006 NBA Finals was the moment that turned Dwyane Wade from a rising star to an emerging superstar and as we now know, an all-time great. Despite Dwyane Wade scoring 30 points through three quarters, the Heat found themselves down 77-68 through three quarters in game three. With 6:34 remaining in the game, the Heat were down 89-76 and it was looking like they were about to be placed in a 3-0 hole in the series. However, Dwyane Wade went on a tear making sure that didn’t happen. He scored 12 points in the remaining minutes of the game and secured the steal that sealed a 98-96 win for the Miami Heat. The momentum from the Heat’s win carried on for the remainder of the series as the Miami Heat went on to win the next three games and, in the process, winning their first NBA championship in franchise history.
LeBron James: 2016 NBA Finals, Game 7
(27 PTS, 11 RBS, 11 AST)
This year will be LeBron James’ 10th NBA Finals appearance in his career more than any other player since 1980. This will be the third team he has appeared in the Finals with making him the first player to appear in an NBA Finals with three different teams since Robert Horry in 2005 (Rockets, Lakers, and Spurs). Of all of the games LeBron has played in the NBA Finals, none were more impactful or iconic as his performance in game seven in the 2016 NBA Finals. He put up a very impressive stat line recording 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, three blocks, and two steals. However, rather surprisingly, recording a triple-double in game seven of the NBA Finals is probably the last thing people remember from this game for LeBron. His chase-down block on Andre Iguodala in the fourth quarter is arguably the greatest defensive play in NBA history. Also, the iconic visual of LeBron celebrating bringing a championship to the city he was born and raised in and a city that has not won a championship in over 50 years will live on forever in sports history.
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