The NBA Finals is where legends are made and over the years, we have witnessed historical efforts from the game’s best collection of talent. These are the performances that served as the ultimate highlight to the final stage of a grueling season of competition. It was a difficult task because of the multitude of classics to choose from but it was a good predicament to find ourselves in and without giving up any love for those that there were not included in the list, our special mentions go to Isiah Thomas, Bill Walton, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, and Larry Bird. Now, let’s shift our focus on the best of the best that the basketball Gods have to offer.
10 – Bill Russell, April 18, 1962
One of the most dominant big men of all-time who played for the most dominant dynasty in NBA history had a Herculean effort in the deciding contest of the 1962 NBA finals. Russell led the Boston Celtics as he scored 30 points and grabbed 40 rebounds, a finals record, in a game where he was pitted against another all-time great in the Los Angeles Lakers’ Elgin Baylor. The Celtics went on to win the title and it was the fourth of their league-record eight straight championships.
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9 – Michael Jordan, June 16, 1993
In the 1993 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan went up against league-MVP and good friend Charles Barkley. The two Hall of Famers went at each other all series long but Game Four was all about Michael as he was simply unstoppable going 21 of 37 from the field en route to scoring 55 points. The Suns could not find an answer to His Airness as he got to the paint at will against every man that Phoenix put up against him. The Bulls doused water to the Suns’ flame in six games to win the series and complete a three-peat. The game also saw Jordan convert on a still standing NBA Finals record 14 field goals in a half.
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8 – James Worthy, June 21, 1988
In Game Seven of the 1988 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons, James Worthy proved deserving of the “Big Game” tag as he lit up the stat sheet with a monstrous triple double, scoring 36 points, grabbing 16 rebounds, and dishing out 10 assists. By showing up in a big way when it mattered most, the league deemed the Laker great to be worthy of the Finals MVP award. The series win completed a back-to-back title conquest for the Showtime Lakers.
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7 – Tim Duncan, June 15, 2003
The San Antonio Spurs battled back-to-back East Champion New Jersey Nets in 2003 NBA Finals and in Game Six, Tim Duncan, who was only nearing his prime, tallied a historic all around game as he came close to a rare quadruple-double with 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, and 8 blocks against the New Jersey frontline of Dikembe Mutombo, Jason Collins, and Kenyon Martin. It was certainly one of Duncan’s greatest hits and a part of a record setting series wherein he had a still unscathed total of 32 blocks. The Spurs went on to win that series clinching game.
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6 – Bob Pettit, April 12, 1958
In Game Six of the 1958 NBA Finals between the St. Louis Hawks and Boston Celtics, Bob Pettit stood up and imposed his will inside against the best defender the league has ever seen in Bill Russell. The Hall of Fame big man scored 50 points in a late-game display of dominance as he scored 19 of the final 21 St. Louis points that was capped by the game-winning basket in the dying seconds. The Hawks won the championship in that game.
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5 – Elgin Baylor, April 14, 1962
Elgin Baylor’s performance in Game Five of the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics finals matchup in 1962 was that good it resulted in a number of NBA Finals records that still stand up to this day. Baylor scored a record-61 points and grabbed 22 rebounds to give the Celtics a 3-2 series lead. Aside from the point-total, some of Baylor’s numbers that night which are still in the record books are most field goals made at 22 and most field goal attempts in a half at 25. Despite his heroic performance in Game Six, Boston still went on to win that series in seven games.
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4 – Michael Jordan, June 11, 1997
Michael Jordan dished out an inspiring performance in Game Five of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz as he willed himself in leading the Chicago Bulls to a hard fought road victory despite battling a flu. Jordan was visibly exhausted all throughout the game but that didn’t stop him from pouring in 38 hard-earned points, grabbing 7 big rebounds, and nailing a dagger three in crunch time. However, Jordan’s trainer, Tim Grover, came out to clarify that MJ did not suffer from the flu virus but it was a case of food poisoning that had him being carried out by Scottie Pippen after the game. Although it took away a bit of drama by changing the popular “Flu Game” tag, it did not affect in any way the fighting spirit that was exhibited by the game’s greatest.
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3 – Jerry West, May 5, 1969
Jerry West was an absolute fantasy monster in Game Seven of the 1969 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, churning up a huge triple double with 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists. West was unstoppable but Mr. Clutch failed to live up to his name in that game as the Celtics still came away as victors, continuing their mastery over West’s Lakers. His performance in that game obviously made a great impression that was enough for him to earn Finals MVP honors despite being on the losing squad – a distinction that only Jerry West holds.
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2 – Michael Jordan, June 14, 1998
A fitting ending to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls chapter which saw him evolve from being an explosive high flyer to becoming the greatest player the game has ever seen. Michael scored 45 points on the road, amidst the raucous Delta Center crowd cheering on their Utah Jazz, to give the Bulls their second three-peat and sixth title in team history. The ending was a page taken out of a story book as Jordan made the game winning defensive play that led to his game winning shot on the other end. The stats were not as gaudy as some but the magnitude of his performance scaled great heights.
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1 – Magic Johnson, May 16, 1980
In the 1980 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers found their backs hard against the wall when franchise center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar suffered an ankle sprain which took him out of the equation. But when Game Six tipped off, 20-year old Earvin “Magic” Johnson was playing the center spot against the Philadelphia 76ers’ trees. The highly energetic youngster dominated the game, and also Julius Erving, en route to tallying 42 points, 15, rebounds, and 7 assists. Johnson won Finals MVP honors and the championship ushered in the arrival of the Lakers who went on to become one of the league’s biggest icons of that decade, led by Magic.