Best Ever Player Performances in the NBA Finals

By Nick Sterling in NBA
| July 31, 2021 2:22 am PDT

Over the years, we’ve seen some of the best players in NBA history put on historic performances in the NBA Finals.

Personally, I think those performances set some of the best players of all-time apart from the great players

I do want to say I am not putting a player on here more than once. Guys like Michael Jordan and LeBron James could probably fill out the top five on their own, so I want to highlight some other players.

Without further ado, here are the top five best individual performances in NBA Finals history.

5. Dwyane Wade – 2006 NBA Finals

In just his third season in the NBA, 24-year-old Dwyane Wade led the Miami Heat to their first NBA Finals in franchise history.

The Heat nearly made it the season before but they lost in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. This time, a matchup with the 60-win Dallas Mavericks awaited them.

Wade went for 28 points, six rebounds, six assists, and four steals in a Game 1 loss. Game 2 wasn’t much better for Miami, as they lost 99-85. Wade scored a series-low 23 points, but he did have eight rebounds.

The Heat trailed by 13 points with six minutes left in Game 3. Facing a 3-0 deficit, Wade and the Heat dug deep. Wade scored 12 of his 42 points in the final six and a half minutes to lead Miami to a 98-96 victory. He recorded his first double-double of the Finals with 42 points and 13 rebounds.

It was a game for the ages.

Miami cruised in Game 4 with a dominant 98-74 victory. Wade continued his stellar play with 36 points on a series-high 56.5 percent shooting.

In what was likely the best game of the series, the Heat won their third straight game to move one away from an NBA Championship. Miami won 101-100 in overtime, with Wade putting up a series-high 43 points on 21 made free throws. His two free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining gave Miami the lead and the win.

Dallas led by 14 in the first half of Game 6, but Miami wasn’t backing down.

They erased that deficit and took a one-point lead into halftime. Miami held off Dallas in the second half to win their fourth consecutive game and clinch their first NBA Championship in franchise history. Wade capped off the series with 36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals, and three blocks.

He won Finals MVP by averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.7 steals.

Wade won two more championships in his career, but those were with LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Everyone will always remember Wade leading his team to the title in 2006.

4. Tim Duncan – 2003 NBA Finals

Tim Duncan won his second consecutive MVP in 2003 and led the San Antonio Spurs to a league-best 60-22 record. The Spurs won their first three playoff series 4-2 to advance to their second NBA Finals in five seasons. The Spurs were matched up with the New Jersey Nets.

Duncan kicked off the series with a dominant performance. He had 32 points, 20 rebounds, seven blocks, and six assists in the Spurs Game 1 victory. The Nets bounced back in Game 2 with an 87-85 victory. Duncan struggled with just 19 points on 3-10 shooting from the free-throw line.

The Spurs won Game 3 by a score of 84-79. Duncan scored 21 points on a much more efficient 9-12 shooting from the free-throw line. He also had 16 rebounds, seven assists, and three blocks.

New Jersey evened up the series in Game 4, despite blowing a 15-point, second-half lead. Duncan did all he could with 23 points, 17 rebounds, and seven blocks, but his great performance came up just short.

San Antonio moved one win away from a championship with a 93-83 victory in Game 5. Duncan continued to do his thing with 29 points, 17 rebounds, and four blocks.

In what will go down as one of the best individual games in NBA Finals history, Duncan exploded for 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, and eight blocks.

His amazing performance helped San Antonio clinch their second title in five seasons.

He won Finals MVP with 24.2 points, 17.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 5.3 blocks. Duncan is just one of 10 players in NBA history to win regular-season MVP and Finals MVP in the same season.

Duncan doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, but he’s likely one of the 10 best players in NBA history.

3. LeBron James – 2016 NBA Finals

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers cruised through the 2016 playoffs, losing just two games going into the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers reward for making the NBA Finals was a matchup with the 73-9 Golden State Warriors.

James nearly had a triple-double with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists in the Cavaliers Game 1 loss. The Warriors blew out the Cavaliers by 33 points in Game 2. James had his worst game of the series with 19 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds.

In what was essentially a must-win game, the Cavaliers jumped out to a 17-point, first-quarter lead and never looked back. They won Game 3 by a score of 120-90. James had 32 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. He also shot over 50 percent for the first time in the series.

Golden State took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series after winning Game 4. James had another great game with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists, but Cleveland was on the brink of elimination.

Cleveland outscored Golden State by 15 in the second half to win Game 5. James had a series-best 41 points and 16 rebounds. He also dished out seven assists.

Just like game 3, the Cavaliers jumped out to a big lead in Game 6 and never looked back to even the series 3-3. James had his second consecutive 41-point game, while also putting up 11 assists, eight rebounds, four steals, and three blocks. He also shot a series-best 59.3 percent.

He led the Cavaliers to their first championship in franchise history with a 93-89 victory in Game 7.

James had one of the most iconic moments of his career when he blocked Andre Iguodala’s layup attempt with just under two minutes remaining.

Cleveland also became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals.

James won his third NBA Finals MVP after averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 8.9 assists. He also shot 49.4 percent from the field.

We all know James is one of the greatest players in NBA history. A lot of people consider him the G.O.A.T because of this series.

2. Shaquille O’Neal – 2000 NBA Finals

Shaquille O’Neal won his only regular-season MVP award in 2000. His strong season led the Los Angeles Lakers to the best record in the league at 67-15.

They barely escaped the Western Conference Finals after overcoming a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit in Game 7 against the Portland Trail Blazers. The series win set up a Finals matchup with the Indiana Pacers.

O’Neal began the Finals with his best performance of the series. Check out this staggering stat line.

  • 43 points
  • 19 rebounds
  • 3 blocks

The Lakers won Game 1 by a score of 104-87.

The Lakers jumped out to 2-0 lead with a 111-104 victory in Game 2. O’Neal had another historic performance with 40 points and 24 rebounds. He also attempted an NBA record 39 free throws, making 18.

Indiana picked up their first win of the series in Game 3. While not as dominant, O’Neal did have 33 points and 13 rebounds. However, he went just 3-13 from the free-throw line.

Los Angeles took a commanding 3-1 series lead with a 120-118 overtime victory in Game 4. O’Neal had 36 points and 21 rebounds but he fouled out halfway through overtime. The Lakers held on in overtime behind a 21-year-old Kobe Bryant.

Game 5 was all Indiana.  They stayed alive with a dominant 120-87 victory. O’Neal had 35 points and 11 rebounds.

In Game 6, the Pacers led by five going into the fourth quarter, but the Lakers outscored them by 10 to win 106-101 and clinch the Championship. O’Neal capped off a historic series with 41 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks.

To recap, check out Shaq’s scoring in that series.

  • Game 1: 43 points
  • Game 2: 40 points
  • Game 3: 33 points
  • Game 4: 36 points
  • Game 5: 41 points

He won his first Finals MVP with 38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks. O’Neal went on to win Finals MVP the following two seasons as the Lakers completed a three-peat.

O’Neal won four championships during his career, but the 2000 NBA Finals was his most impressive.

1. Michael Jordan – 1993 NBA Finals

We know this list wouldn’t be complete without Michael Jordan.

Jordan and the Chicago Bulls entered 1993 looking to complete a three-peat. They swept through their first two playoff series before defeating the New York Knicks in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. They met the 62-win, Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals.

Chicago led wire-to-wire in their 100-92 victory in Game 1. Jordan had 31 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and five steals. The 31 points turned out to be his lowest point total of the series.

In a tightly contested battle, the Bulls beat Phoenix 111-108 to take a 2-0 lead in the series. Jordan nearly recorded a triple-double with 41 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists. The Bulls looked to be in excellent shape, winning both games on the road.

Phoenix won a thrilling Game 3 in triple overtime by a score of 129-121. Jordan had 44 points, nine rebounds, and six assists.

Jordan put together arguably his best Finals game in his entire career in Game 4. He scored 55 points on 56.8 percent shooting, with 13 made free throws.

His 55 points are the second-most for any player in an NBA Finals game in NBA history. His historic performance led the Bulls to a 111-105 victory.

The Suns stayed alive with a 108-98 victory in Game 5. Despite the loss, Jordan recorded his fourth consecutive game over 40 points with 41 points. He also added in seven rebounds and seven assists.

Game 6 went down to the wire with Chicago trailing by two points in the game’s closing seconds. John Paxson made a three-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining to give the Bulls a one-point lead.

Phoenix failed to convert on their final shot, giving Jordan and the Bulls their third consecutive championship. Jordan finished the record-breaking series with 33 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.

Jordan won his third consecutive Finals MVP by averaging a finals record, 41.0 points. He also averaged 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists.

He went on to finish his career with six championships, winning Finals MVP in all of them.

Other Great NBA Finals Performances

  • Magic Johnson – Lakers (1987)
  • Hakeem Olajuwon – Rockets (1995)
  • Kobe Bryant – Lakers (2009)

It’s easier to lump a bunch of deserving efforts into an all-time NBA Finals performance list. Cutting it down to the top-5 in NBA history is when it gets tough.

If you had to extend the list, it’d be tough to leave out Magic’s amazing effort in 1987, “The Dream” guiding the Rockets to a title, or Kobe going full Kobe with 32.4 points per game when he won a title sans Shaq.

All these players are legends. They all have at least one regular-season MVP to their name. However, their historic performances in the NBA Finals really sets them apart from other NBA greats.

The question really isn’t if these are some of the best NBA Finals performances in history. It’s – at least arguably – what order they should be in.

These are my top 5 NBA Finals performances, but I’d love to hear your take in the comments below.

As for the current state of the NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo just delivered a performance that could easily one day crack this top 5. It remains to be seen what other NBA players have what it takes to join this list in the future, of course.

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