The NBA playoffs are the most exciting period of the basketball calendar. Every game of the playoffs provides some drama. Whether that’s a team upsetting the odds or an individual putting on a tremendous playoff performance, there’s always excitement.
With the playoffs just around the corner, everybody is focused on how their team looks for the playoffs. However, today we’re going to focus on the best individual displays we’ve seen throughout the decades. Some players appear several times as part of iconic teams, while others had one magnificent showing in a singular series. Check out the 25 greatest NBA playoff performances via Clutch Points.
25. Rajon Rondo – 2012
Rondo was fantastic for the Boston Celtics throughout the 2012 playoffs. While the Miami Heat eventually defeated Boston, that takes nothing away from Rondo’s playoffs as an individual. In game two against the Heat, he was devastating in his efficiency.
He played the entire 53 minutes, racking up 44 points, 10 assists, and eight rebounds in an impressive performance in the playoffs. That was also one of three years where he led the NBA in assists. A great year for the now-LA Lakers’ star.
In 2004, Garnett was the league MVP. The Boston Celtics needed him to perform in high-pressure situations during the playoffs. The Sacramento Kings battered the Celtics in the previous game six, winning by 17 points. That’s when Garnett went off with one of his finest moments o the playoffs in game seven.
He put on one of the best individual performances of his career overall, in fact. Garnett scored 32 points in 46 minutes, with two assists and five blocks as the Celtics blew the Kings away. Furthermore, he beat the shot clock with an incredible three-pointer. He turned 28 on that same day.
The Toronto Raptors were the second-biggest underdogs to win the NBA championship in NBA playoffs history. They owe much of their success to the brilliance and consistency of one man. Leonard was fantastic all throughout their playoffs campaign.
He had the highest scoring average since 2000 with 30.5 points. Only Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Shaquille O’Neal averaged more. That’s NBA royalty. We could focus on one playoff game, but his overall playoffs led him to become just the third player to win the Finals MVP award with multiple teams.
Game Five of the Philadelphia 76ers’ playoff series against the Toronto Raptors saw Iverson play out of his skin. He already scored 54 points in game two and 53 in the fifth game. This made him the first NBA player to break 50 points in two playoff games in a singular series.
Even though he scored slightly less in the fifth game, his overall contribution in terms of assists and blocks were greater. Furthermore, he displayed skill and tenacity against Vince Carter and the Raptors that simply took spectators breath away. An epic individual playoffs display.
Some critics somewhat unfairly believe ‘The King’ doesn’t always turn up in playoff games. However, he shows up three times on this list so that just isn’t true. His most recent postseason brilliance comes from game six of the 2016 NBA Finals.
James was prolific all through this playoff series. In this game, he had 42 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, and four steals. His four blocks all came at key times with one against Stephen Curry particularly memorable. To sum up, he singlehandedly forced the series into game seven.
The New York Knicks didn’t make it deep into the playoffs that year, but we’re focused on Ewing. The All-Star center scorched the Boston Celtics in game four of the Eastern Conference’s first round. He was just too big and strong for a vulnerable Celtics team.
Ewing was also very efficient. He scored 44 points on just 24 shots. That’s a very clinical output. He also contributed seven assists and two blocks in a complete display for the Knicks. The seven-footer was a beast for the now-laughable New York franchise.
Griffin was outstanding when the Houston Rockets defeated the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2015 Western Conference semifinals. He was the shining light for the LA franchise and was like one man battling against the storm. His addition on this list may appear unexpected, but a closer look shows just how good he was.
Firstly, his supporting cast belonged nowhere near a playoff game. Despite this, Griffin still dragged them kicking and screaming into the postseason. His game two performance was majestic as he scored 34 points with 14 assists as the Clippers narrowly fell short.
Curry was fantastic for the Golden State Warriors on their way to the 2016 NBA Championship. After a season of outstanding consistency, he won the MVP Award. Game four of the second round against the Portland Trail Blazers saw him put on an absolute clinic.
The Warriors’ star put 40 points on Portland in a scintillating display, but he achieved even more than this. Curry also broke the record for most overtime points scored with 17. Finally, with a minute left on the clock, he scored a deep three to put the icing on the cake.
In the early days of Bryant’s career, there was criticism he wasn’t a big game player. However, he totally upended this train of thought with a scintillating display against the Sacramento Kings. It was in game four of the Western Conference semifinals and the Lakers were dominant.
The Black Mamba scored 48 points with three assists as the Lakers blasted their way through the Pacers. He also contributed 16 rebounds in a great overall performance. In the end, the Lakers shot their way to their second straight title in a big era for the franchise.
Sometimes a player proves to be pivotal to their team’s championship hopes. That’s exactly the situation that Wade found himself in as he played out of his skin in game three of the Finals. This was one of the most influential individual displays we’ve seen.
The key point is that the Miami Heat were losing the series 2-0 at this point. But Wade almost single-handedly turned the series around. He scored 42 points and contributed 13 rebounds. It saved the series for the Heat and Wade also won the Finals MVP award.
Most of ‘The King’s’ appearances on this list relate to his brilliance for Cleveland, but this one comes from the Miami Heat. They played against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals and James displayed his full scoring prowess with all his weapons.
Furthermore, the Heat needed a win to stay in the series. James got them there with a 45-point game. He blew the Celtics away with a clinical demonstration of his elite talents. As well as his point contribution, he added 15 rebounds and five assists.
Most of the players on this list made it because of their attacking prowess, but Duncan got there for his defensive performance against the New Jersey Nets. The San Antonio Spurs had a massive all-round game one in the NBA Finals. In sum, he was all over the court.
His 32 points were a key part of the Spurs’ win but his contribution at the other end of the court was just as key. Look at these numbers: 20 rebounds, six assists, seven blocks as well as three steals show one of the most complete postseason displays we’ve ever seen.
Worthy was essential in the LA Lakers’ NBA Finals win over the Detroit Pistons. First of all, without his points, they wouldn’t have got near their third title in four years. Because of his scorching postseason display, they were able to blitz the high-flying Pistons.
Fans nicknamed him ‘Big Game’ because of playoff displays like this. He scored 36 points with 16 rebounds, 10 assists, and also two steals. Furthermore, this was the first triple-double of his career, so that was extra sweet for him. In the end, he won the Finals MVP award.
The Dallas Mavericks had nine days off before their playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. But Nowitzki didn’t take any time off. Instead, he used it to put in some extra shooting practice and it definitely paid off. After the restart, he played a brilliant game.
He looked unstoppable on a night of dominance in the Western Conference Finals. Nowitzki scored 48 points overall, putting away 10 of his first 11 shots. Some players just have a special game, but Nowitzki’s moment was out of this world.
One of several installments on this list where an individual stood defiant in the face of defeat, Jordan was inspiring in this match. It was game two against the Boston Celtics in a first-round playoff series. For the Chicago Bulls, it was a disappointing series, but it did show how brilliant Jordan would become.
First of all, he broke the scoring record in a playoff game with 63 points. Furthermore, the young star had only played in 18 games that season because of a foot injury. But this didn’t stop him playing sensationally in one of the great individual postseason performances.
This was one of the most unexpected games in NBA playoff history. First of all, Floyd had played reasonably well but not outstanding for the Golden State Warriors in the 1997 postseason. Then he suddenly burst into life in game four of the Western Conference semifinals.
His 51 points against the Lakers were more than he had scored in the previous three playoff games put together. Meanwhile, he broke the record for most points scored in a quarter with 29. Then he went one further, scoring 39 in the half for another record.
Thomas showed tremendous heart in 1988 as the Pistons almost came back to beat the LA Lakers. However, while they didn’t get the result that they wanted, Thomas as an individual was phenomenal. Game six of the series saw him play with a sprained ankle but he overcame adversity.
Even though he spent most of the game hopping around on one leg, he still produced 43 points. Add in his eight assists and six steals and you can see just how valuable his contribution was. Meanwhile, his 24-point third quarter brought the Pistons agonizingly close to the win.
‘Shaq’ had some tremendous postseason moments but his best playoff game came against the Indiana Pacers. In short, he crushed their spirits in game one of the 2000 Finals, putting the Lakers on the road to victory. This one of his most dominant displays on the court.
O’Neal scored 43 points with 19 rebounds, as well as three blocks and four assists. Furthermore, he totally overwhelmed Rik Smits on the opposite side with his physical prowess. The Lakers went on and won the first of three championships in a row.
This was a landmark game for Jordan for a number of reasons. First, the Chicago Bulls were fighting for their third title in a row and ‘MJ’ was key to their chances. He didn’t disappoint because and was at his absolute peak at this moment in time. Just check out his statistics from game four of the finals against the Phoenix Suns.
Jordan blasted in an astounding 53 points in one of the most dominant displays of his career. Sure, he scored more in regular-season games, but think of the weight of pressure on his shoulders. In doing so, he became the first NBA player to score 40 or more points in four straight Finals games.
Barkley won the NBA MVP award in 1992-93 after an outstanding individual season. You could argue that it was the best of his career and he certainly put in his best individual playoff performance. We’re talking about game five against the Seattle SuperSonics in the Western Conference Finals.
Barkley scored 43 points and achieved 15 rebounds with 10 assists on the Suns’ road to victory. Furthermore, it was a defining game for Barkley, who is rightly a legend in Phoenix for his displays.
The Houston Rockets crashed out of the 1987 semifinals against the Seattle SuperSonics. They lost by three points 128-125, a defeat that was hard to take. However, the reality is that one man was a bastion of resistance against the Supersonics. That was Olajuwon, who put on the showing of a lifetime.
Even though Seattle outgunned his team, Olajuwon put up a magnificent fight. He scored 49 points and had 25 rebounds as well as six blocks in one of the greatest playoff performances of all-time. In sum, the Supersonics won the semifinals, but Olajuwon won the respect of fans.
This is an all-time list so we have to include Chamberlain’s magnificent performance against the Syracuse Nationals in the first round of the playoffs. First of all, the 76ers’ legend is most famous for his iconic 100-point game, but this was more important.
In sum, he scored an outrageous 56 points with a ridiculous 35 rebounds. It’s highly unlikely these numbers will ever be replicated because such dominant individual performances are rare in the modern game. But that just makes his stat line all the more special.
Playing against the Pistons in game five of the conference finals, James was outstanding. Furthermore, he was a centralistic force for the Cavaliers at Auburn Hills, driving them to a double overtime win. In short, without a player of his class, they would never have achieved such a result.
First of all, James scored 48 points, including 29 out of the last 30 that Cleveland scored. It was also the defining game of the series. He added nine rebounds, seven assists, and two steals against a great defensive team. You can never count James out.
Some will argue that Johnson’s NBA Finals performance against the Philadelphia 76ers, should top this list. This showing, from game six, was magnificent. The 20-year-old demonstrated his All-Star talent that season and averaged 18 points a game.
However, he went to the next level against the 76ers. His 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, and one block were central in helping the LA Lakers win the NBA Championship. Of course, Johnson went on and became a legend, inspiring a generation of players who came after him.
Yes, we’re talking about the legendary flu game. In sum, this was one of the most inspirational moments in NBA history. Jordan and his Chicago Bulls played against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 Finals. However, Jordan was suffering from a seasonal illness and was close to skipping the playoff game.
But instead, he chose to power through and put on one of the best performances of his entire career. Jordan finished with 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. He also shot 48% from the field while playing 44 of the 48 minutes. Most of us would have been on the couch.