The best performances in NBA Finals history

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

September 30th, 2020

The NBA Finals are an opportunity to shine for the game’s best stars, as well as for players that seize the opportunity to propel themselves into the national spotlight when the lights are brightest. With the 2020 edition upon us, let’s take a look back at five of the most dazzling single-game performances in NBA Finals history.

5) Allen Iverson: Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals

The Los Angeles Lakers had won 11 straight games, sweeping through the Western Conference Playoffs, and eventually won the series 4-1, but in Game 1 against Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers had no answer. The Lakers had a dominant roster, led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, and the 76ers roster composition looks like the final question in the toughest NBA trivia contest you’ve ever participated in.

Allen Iverson was MVP of the NBA, and while some may question the shoot-first strategy of the long-time elite scoring guard, it was the only option his team had for competing with the Lakers. The betting line was Lakers -12, the series line was -2000, but in Game 1 Iverson poured in 48 points to steal a victory. Iverson’s performance is one of the most underrated but amazing Finals performances in the history of the sport.

4) Tim Duncan: Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals 

In the 2003 season, the San Antonio Spurs had the famed "Twin Towers" featuring David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Duncan was the younger of the two and benefited tremendously from the talent around him, but the greatest power forward of all-time followed up his 2002 MVP season with perhaps the best game of his career.

In a game with a final score of just 88-77, Duncan contributed 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, and a record-tying eight blocks. The Spurs came back from a nine-point fourth quarter deficit to win the championship.

3) Bill Russell: Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals

I can’t say I was alive to witness this performance, but the stat line alone has to give it a spot on my list. In Game 7 against the storied Los Angeles Lakers, Bill Russell of the Celtics put up 30 points and picked up an incredible 40 rebounds en route to a decisive victory to earn the championship. Russell’s 40 rebounds in an NBA Finals game is a league record that will almost certainly never be broken.

2) Magic Johnson: Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals

As a 20-year old rookie, Magic Johnson stepped in for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and had an incredible performance to win the series. For a player that is known for his hall-of-fame passing abilities running the court, the multi-faceted Johnson played all over the court, recording 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.

Abdul-Jabbar was a six-time MVP that had been dominating the series and suddenly left the Lakers without their established star, but Johnson showed a different skill set that was unguardable for the 76ers as they won resoundingly, 123-107.

1) Michael Jordan: Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals

For anybody that watched the Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, you know how Michael Jordan felt about Portland Blazers guard, Clyde Drexler. After being compared to the Blazers guard, Jordan felt slighted heading into the 1992 NBA Finals, and made a point to come out and prove he was the most dominant player in the game.

While many of the greatest performances of all-time are the result of clutch performance in the final quarter or minutes of games, Jordan’s 39 points in Game 1 is the most impressive of all. Jordan made a point to attack Drexler early and often, hitting six three-pointers and scoring 35 in the first half.

The Bulls won 122-89, and while it’s nice to have a player score double-digits in the fourth quarter to come from behind and win the game, Jordan came out and showed in one half that he was by far the greatest basketball player on the planet. Jordan and the Bulls would go on as repeat champions, as well as winning four of the next six championships.