The Top 10 Playoff Performances
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Remember where you were when MJ scored 63? I do. I was in Hawaii on a high school senior class trip. While everyone was out touring Pearl Harbor, I was in my hotel room on a better than perfect 85 degree afternoon day watching Michael corkscrew his way a NBA Playoff record 63 against (at the time) an eight-time All-NBA Defensive teamer in Dennis Johnson and against arguably the greatest NBA team of all time, the ’86 Celtics.

What about Magic’s Game 6 one-man show versus the Sixers in 1980 …..I watched it on tape delay at 10:30 p.m. on Channel 2, the local CBS affiliate in Chicago.

And that’s how you know LeBron’s historic night versus the Pistons was special. You’ll always remember where you were when he scored an unfathomable 25 consecutive points against the Detroit Pistons.

Everything LeBron accomplished in his young NBA career up until Game 5 made you think he was merely a special player. And then during every off balance 20 footer or uncontested dunk on his way to scoring 29 of the Cavs final 30 points, made you realize that he’s an (all-time) great player.
Is LeBron better than MJ at age 22? It appears so. At 22, Jordan couldn’t carry the Bulls past five games versus the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 1985 playoffs, while LeBron is carrying his entire team on his back, one win away from the franchise’s first ever Finals appearance.
Thursday night’s historic virtuoso performance begs the question, where does it rank among the greatest single-playoff game performances. Here's one man's take.

1. The 1980 Declaration of Magic Johnson (Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals) | Highlights
He calls it his greatest NBA game ever. When 20-year-old rookie Magic Johnson received the news from Lakers head coach Paul Westhead that he was the Game 6 starting center replacing injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who was home in L.A. nursing an ankle sprain, he thought he was kidding. So what was Magic’s first official act in replacing Abdul-Jabbar as team leader? He took his empty seat at the front of the cabin on the team plane prior to the Lakers’ flight to Philadelphia, telling teammates, “Never feat, E.J. is here.”

Their response?

“They all looked at me like I’m silly,” Johnson said. “It was like, ‘This young kid … yeaaah, right.” With Magic at center, the Lakers were relentless in pushing the fast break catching the bigger and less athletic Sixers off guard. The strategy worked as the Lakers and Sixers were tied at halftime, 60-60.

The Lakers then exploded to a 14-0 lead to open the third quarter and never looked back, silencing the stunned Spectrum crowd.

“That when it got really, really quiet,” said Johnson. “They couldn’t believe what was happening.”

For the game, Johnson recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals to clinch the Lakers first of five titles of the ’80s and was named Finals MVP for his performance. Overshadowed in Magic’s brilliant all-around effort was Jamaal Wilkes who scored 37 in that games, 25 in the second half.

2. LeBron’s Historic Night: James Scores Cavs’ Final 25 points in Double OT Thriller (Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals) | LeBron's 48| Watch Both OTs| All Access
May 31, 2007 – Mark it down as the official date LeBron James became a great NBA player. Nothing King James did in his brief NBA career prior to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals came remotely close to the all-around brilliance he displayed in single-handedly leading the Cavs to victory over the Detroit Pistons and one win away from the franchise’s first ever Finals appearance.

With the Cavs trailing by seven --- 88-81 – with just over three minutes to play in regulation, James officially entered the Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird playoff territory. James was unstoppable. A layup, a three-pointer and two power slams within the last 31.4 seconds forced the game into overtime. The first overtime session saw James hit a pair of free throws, a dunk and an off balanced 20-footer giving the Cavs the lead only to watch the Pistons tie the game via free throws to force a second overtime session. In the second OT, James continued his roll, nailing a 26-footer to tie the game at 107 with 1:14 remaining and later driving past the Pistons defense for the game winning layup.

When the buzzer sounded, the breathtaking display saw James score the Cavs final 25 points and 29 of the team’s last 30 against a veteran Pistons team.

"That was unbelieveable – I've never seen anything like that, ever," smiled Daniel Gibson. "Words can't describe the determination he put out there. The heart, the effort. It was just amazing."

3. MJ Flu Game (Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals) | Highlights
For a player who made a career out of heroic playoff performances, nothing topped Michael Jordan’s inspired play in Game 5 of the 1997 Finals. After taking Games 1 and 2, the Bulls suddenly found themselves staring at a 2-2 series tie heading into Game 5 at the Delta Center with the momentum and confidence having shifted in Utah’s favor. Worst yet for the Bulls, Michael Jordan was suffering from food poisoning or an intestinal stomach virus and looked doubtful for Game 5. Even the Bulls’ team doctors thought that there was no way he could play. After remaining in bed for 24 hours, Jordan showed up at the Delta Center three hours before tip off, ready to give it a shot.

Even Scottie Pippen didn’t think his teammate could play after seeing him inside the Delta Center before the game. "The way he looked, there's no way I thought he could even put on his uniform. "I'd never seen him like that. He looked bad -- I mean really bad." Jordan did play but wasn’t clearly 100 percent and it was evident in the first quarter. Yet in the second quarter, Jordan showed signs of life, regaining energy and stamina and somehow finding a way to score 17 points.

While fluids and cold towels tried to improve Jordan’s condition at halftime, he was clearly hurting in the third quarter. The fourth quarter yielded better results as Jordan’s desire prevailed despite his flu-like symptoms.

Trailing 85-84 with 46 seconds remaining in regulation, Jordan was fouled and proceeded to hit one of two free throws. After his second attempt was short, the ball was tipped by Toni Kukoc and immediately grabbed by Jordan who found Pippen in the post. When Jordan’s defender, Byron Russell, went to double Pippen, Jordan was wide open for a three-pointer, which he drained, as the Bulls took a 88-85 lead en route to an eventual 90-88 victory. Jordan ended the quarter with 15 points.

"That was probably the most difficult thing I've ever done," Jordan said after the game. "I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game. If we had lost, I would have been devastated."

Jordan finished with 38 points on 13 of 27 shooting in 44 minutes of action and left his coach and teammates in awe. "Because of the circumstances, with this being a critical game in the Finals, I'd have to say this is the greatest game I've seen Michael play,” said Phil Jackson. “Just standing up was nauseating for him and caused him dizzy spells. This was a heroic effort, one to add to the collection of efforts that make up his legend."

Said Pippen: “He's the greatest, and everyone saw why tonight."

4. Isiah Motors to 43 Points on a Bum Ankle (Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals) | Highlights
When did Isiah Thomas officially become a legend in the making? Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals -- the third quarter to be precise. With the Detroit Pistons trailing the Los Angeles Lakers 56-48 early in the third, Thomas was in the zone, scoring 14 straight points. Then, with a little more than four minutes remaining, Thomas fell on Michael Cooper’s foot and had to be assisted from the floor only to return 35 seconds later to continue his scoring spree, only this time on a sprained right ankle. Hobbling as he made his way up and down the court, when the quarter ended, Thomas scored a Finals record for most points in a quarter with 25, having hit 11 of 13 shots while giving the Pistons a 81-79 lead heading into the fourth.

Eleven minutes later, the Pistons found themselves a mere 60 seconds from its first title holding on to a 102-99 lead only to watch the Lakers pull it out despite Joe Dumars miss from six feet away with eight seconds remaining. Isiah finished the game with 43 points, eight assists, six steals along with a jammed left pinkie, a poked eye, a scratched face and a badly swollen right ankle.

"What Isiah Thomas did in the second half was just incredible," marveled Lakers head coach Pat Riley after the game.

5. M.J.’s 63-Point Special: Jordan Torches the Celtics (Game 2 of the 1986 First Round, NBA Playoffs) | Highlights
“I think he’s God disguised as Michael Jordan,” marveled Larry Bird in the Boston Celtics locker room after Game 2 of the First Round of the 1986 NBA Playoffs. “He’s the most awesome player in the NBA.” Bird’s effusive praise was certainly warranted after Jordan put on one of the greatest one-man shows ever in NBA postseason history, scoring a playoff-record 63 points against the Celtics in Boston Garden. Jordan tapped into his full offensive repertoire that Sunday afternoon, dropping fadeaway jumpers, flying dunks, running bank shots and mesmerizing between-the-legs pump fakes.

“Michael was doing so much and so well that I found myself just wanting to stop and watch him ---and I was playing,” said teammate John Paxson.

Jordan made 22 of 41 shots from the field and 19 of 21 free throw attempts in 53 minutes of action as the Bulls lost to the Celtics, 135-131, in a double overtime thriller. “Everyone knew Michael was an excellent player,” said the Celtics’ Danny Ainge, “but I think that was the first time everyone realized how great he was.”

6. Bill Russell 30 Points and 40 Rebound Performance (Game 7, OT, 1962 NBA Finals) | Highlights
In arguably the greatest season in NBA history – 1961-62 – (Oscar’s triple double season, Wilt scoring 100 points) it was fitting that the Finals would go the distance, including overtime in the seventh game. And how do you deliver any bigger than Bill Russell’s 30 points and 40 rebounds as the Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 110-107 in overtime.

Despite Russell’s heroics, it is a game perhaps best remembered for Frank Selvy’s baseline jumper miss from seven to eight feet away that could have ended Boston’s dynasty had it gone in.

The 1962 Finals was the official start of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, the first of six Finals meetings the ’60s in which the Celtics went a perfect 6-0 versus the Lakers.

7. Elgin Baylor's 61 Points (Game 5, 1962 NBA Finals) | Highlights
The lineage of NBA high-flying, aerial masters began with one player – Elgin Baylor. The 6-5 forward who initiated the NBA’s space-exploration program in 1958 as a member of the Minneapolis Lakers served as an inspiration for the NBA’s other elite frequent flyers – Connie Hawkins, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan and Vince Carter.

And before Michael scored 63 versus the Celtics at Boston Garden, Baylor scored 61 versus the Celtics in Game 5 of the 1962 Finals in Boston, establishing a Finals mark that still stands to this day.

The Celtics defensive specialist Satch Sanders was no match for Baylor who also grabbed 22 rebounds.

“Elgin was just a machine,” said Sanders.

Double teams didn’t work on Baylor since he was such a good passer and one on one coverage wasn’t stopping him either.

The Lakers won Game 5, 126-121 to take a 3-2 lead as the series shifted to Los Angeles. “All I remember is that we won the game,” said Baylor when asked about his historic night. “I never thought about how many points I had."

8. Bob Pettit Soars for 50 (Game 6, 1958 NBA Finals) | Highlights
It was a dynasty interrupted. The mighty Boston Celtics went to the NBA Finals 10 years in a row and won every time except once – 1958. Meet the man who was largely responsible for that brief pause: Bob Pettit. The St. Louis Hawks 6-9 power forward delivered one of the greatest single-game performances in NBA Finals history when he scored 50 points in Game 6 of the 1958 Finals. Pettit was unstoppable, scoring 19 of the team’s final 21 points, including the game clincher, a tip-in with 15 seconds left in regulation.

“We had to win that game,” said Pettit. “We did not want to have to go to Boston to try to win Game 7.”

Who could blame him? After all, the Hawks lost a Game 7 double-overtime thriller one year earlier in the Finals at Boston Garden. The Hawks did meet the Celtics in back to back Finals two years later, but it was too late. The Celtics Dynasty was already on a roll to the tune of eight in a row.

“He would play all out, whether he was 50 points ahead of 50 point behind.”—Red Auerbach

9. Clyde Glides to Game 7 Heroics (Game 7, 1970 NBA Finals) | Highlights
Although Willis Reed was the inspiration for the Knicks’ dramatic Game 7 victory in the 1970 NBA Finals, Walt Frazier was the catalyst. Reed’s stirring entrance into Madison Square Garden gave the Knicks an emotional lift but it was Frazier’s 36 points, 19 assists, seven rebounds and stifling defense that helped lead the Knicks to their first ever NBA title.

“I saw the whole Lakers team standing around and staring at this man,” said Frazier. “And Willis set the tempo. He made the first two shots and that was it. We said, ‘The captain is ready. Half of Willis is better than anybody else we could put out there.’

So he provided the inspiration, and in a way I provided the devastation. That was perhaps my best game as a player considering what was on the line – a championship. But entering that game I never thought that I had to score, I had to rebound. I just let it happen, I let the game come to me. Normally [Red] Holzman was telling me to hit the open man. But in this particular game I was the open man.”

10. Miller Time: Reggie’s 25 fourth quarter game vs. Knicks (Game 5, 1994 Eastern Conference Finals) | Highlights
The regular season was always a warm-up for Reggie Miller. The 6-7 guard always saved his best performances for the bright lights of basketball’s biggest stage: The NBA Playoffs and specifically, Madison Square Garden. And for a player who earned the reputation as one of the greatest clutch players in playoff history, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Knicks in the most memorable “Reggie” game of them all.

Trailing 70-58 entering the fourth quarter, the Pacers seized control thanks to a 14-0 run with Miller contributing 10 of the 14. Miller hit five three-pointers, then an NBA record and scored a total of 25 points, which was four shy of a one-quarter playoff mark. Miller finished with 39 points, including 6 for 11 from three-point territory as the Pacers won 93-86 and single handedly snapped the Pacers 11-game losing streak at the Garden.

For Miller, he relished being the greatest one-man show on earth, especially at the Garden. “You’ve got to be a bad guy,” said Miller. “Good guys finish last, I really do believe that. But I’m two different people. When I’m on the stage I’m into all of that. Away from it I have to ground myself. I’d drive myself crazy if I lived like that.”

10. Big Game James Triple Double (Game 7, 1988 NBA Finals) |
Highlights
At the 1987 championship parade, head coach Pat Riley guaranteed the championship repeat and 12 months later, James Worthy delivered it. The player often overshadowed in the greatness of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and even Riley, Worthy’s crowning moment as a Laker occurred in Game 7 of the ’88 Finals when he scored 36 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished 10 assists to defeat the Detroit Pistons, 108-105, at the Great Western Forum. Worthy was named Finals MVP of that series cementing his nickname “Big Game James” as the Lakers became the first team since the 1968-69 Celtics to repeat as champions.

As Magic noted at Worthy’s retirement press conference in 1994: “James Worthy was one of the top 10, top 15 players in playoff history.”

HONORABLE MENTION

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Rick Barry’s 55 Points Vs. Sixers; Game 3, 1967 NBA Finals
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Dirk Nowitzki 50 Points in Game 5 vs. Suns, 2006 Western Conference Finals
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