Top 15 Single-Game NBA Playoff Performances Since 1980

Even though, one player does not make up an entire team, there are specific players who have what it takes to lead their teams to victory in any given situation. Michael Jordan became a household name because of his amazing talent on the basketball court. Of course, he was supported by some extraordinary teammates like Scottie Pippen, BJ Armstrong, Steve Kerr, Paxon and Tony Kukoc. Do you remember Michael Jordan’s spectacular game when he had the flu? He dug deep within to find something amazing that no one else has ever seen in the NBA. While he was playing against L.A, Isaiah Thomas scored 43 points on a sprained ankle. It is not about which one was the best. It is about the extraordinary performances that were made, which changed the game.

Rajon Rondo and Lebron James were undeniably two of the best players the 2012 NBA postseason. Their classic performances will certainly go down in the history books with Rondo having a game of 44-8-10 and James 45-15-5 where he, in fact, saved the Miami Heat’s season. You cannot talk about Lebron and not include Dwyane Wade in the same sentence. Both play so well together coupled with the finesse of Bosh and others. When Miami was on the brink of losing Game 3 in Dallas, Dwyane Wade single-handedly brought the team back and subsequently to another NBA title. Kobe Bryant with Shaquille O’Neal as supporting cast was able to have numerous performances that gave the team confidence. Not every good NBA player is going to make it to the NBA Finals, but there are some who come out as winners even when they don’t. With that being said, there are some top plays that cannot go unnoticed when it comes to playoff performances since 1980. Let’s take a closer look now at some of the best performances in playoff history.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

15 Kobe Bryant, Game 4, 2001 Western Conference Semifinals

via nba.com

No one can deny that Kobe Bryant has had some good playing times and record. When the L.A. Lakers swept the Sacramento Kings in the 2001 semifinals of the Western Conference, his record was very impressive at 48 points, 3 assists and 16 rebounds. The dominance in his performance would propel him to three consecutive NBA titles, the team losing only a game in the entire 2001 playoffs. Who can argue against Kobe being a force to be reckoned with?

14 Charles Barkley, Game 7, 1993 Western Conference Finals

via nba.com

Charles Barkley, currently TV personnel on TNT delivered in many performances for the Phoenix Suns. Deserving of mention and with the game on the line is Barkley’s 44 points and 24 rebounds in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Seattle SuperSonics. Barkley successfully defended the Sonics and made many appearances at the free throw line. Out of 22 free throws, he made 19. His defense helped to dismiss Shawn Kemp from the game after 39 minutes of play. This performance was the polar opposite of "trbl".

13 Isiah Thomas, Game 6, 1988 NBA Finals 

via nba.com

If you are too young to know about Isiah Thomas, you should know that his memories are forever embanked in NBA history. Isiah was a guard for the Detroit Pistons. He showed his basketball guts in the 1988 NBA Finals, Game 6 against the L.A. Lakers. He had a sprained ankle and made every shot in the basketball hoop as he hopped around the court on just one foot. In the third quarter alone, he scored 24 points and finished the game with 43 points, six steals and eight assists. In one of the biggest heart-breakers in NBA history, the L.A. Lakers did win the game and the NBA title in Game 7, but no one will forget Isiah’s performance.

12 Tim Duncan, Game 1, 2003 NBA Finals

via espn.com

Tim Duncan is a dominant player for the San Antonio Spurs and he shows this almost every time he goes on the basketball court. In a game against the New Jersey Nets in the 2003 finals, Game 1, he completely exasperated his opponents. He had an extraordinary offensive and defensive night with a game record of 32 points, 3 steals, 6 assists, 20 rebounds and 7 blocks. So began the rise of Duncan's Spurs and the constant dominance they've displayed over the last decade.

11 Dirk Nowitzki,  Game 1, 2011 Western Conference Finals

AP Photo/Eric Gay

Dirk Nowitzki has been a star for the Dallas Mavericks for so long and everyone can agree that he is unstoppable, especially at the beginning of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in 2011 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was successful in making 10 of the first 11 shooting attempts and finished with 48 points for the night. He was a man on a mission that year, doing everything in his power to win that ever elusive first championship.

10 Shaquille O'Neal, Game 1, 2000 NBA Finals

via espn.com

Shaquille O’Neal helped the Los Angeles Lakers win Game 1 of the 2000 NBA finals. In fact, he was the one who set the tone for the game, finishing with 43 points and 19 rebounds against the Indiana Pacers. Not even Rik Smits could handle the powerhouse diesel. The Lakers won the series - in six games. The Lakers would go on to win two more consecutive titles, with Shaq and Kobe dominating the landscape of the NBA.

9 LeBron James, Game 6, 2012 Eastern Conference Finals

via nytimes.com

LeBron James is the reigning king of basketball and he shows it every time he hits the court, dunking, driving, pulling back, turning around, posting up, floating and banking shots. However in this game, LeBron answered all his critics saying he couldn't lead his team to a championship. During Game 6 of the Heat and Celtics series in the 2012 Eastern Conference, James finished the game with 45 points, 5 assists and 15 rebounds. This was an important win for Miami to remain in the playoffs and James stepped up to the plate for his team.

8 Hakeem Olajuwon, Game 6, 1987 Western Conference Semifinals

via rantsports.com

Hakeem Olajuwon made this list, but not because his team won. It was due to his unforgettable performance in the 1987 Seattle SuperSonics and Houston Rockets game in the Western Conference semifinals. Even though the Houston Rockets lost the game, 128-125, Olajuwon scored 49 points, made 6 blocks and earned 25 rebounds. He deserves his place here. It was a cruel way for Olajuwon's season to end, but he was only beginning his legendary career.

7 James Worthy, Game 7, 1988 NBA Finals

via espn.com

James Worthy had a huge Game 7 against the Detroit Pistons in the 1988 NBA finals. After the Pistons couldn't close the deal in Game 6, despite Isiah Thomas's gutsy effort, Worthy made Detroit pay in Game 7. “Big Game,” as he was labeled for that performance, James scored 36 points in the deciding game. He had 10 assists and 16 rebounds. His triple-double led the Lakers to consecutive championships and he became MVP for season.

6 Magic Johnson, Game 6, 1980 NBA Finals

via theshadowleague.com

An injured ankle kept Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out of Game 6 of the 76ers–Lakers NBA finals in 1980. As a result, rookie Earvin “Magic” Johnson became his replacement. “No Fear,’ is Earvin’s motto and he exemplified this on that night. He ended the game with 42 points, 7 assists, 3 steals, 1 block and 15 rebounds. His dominant performance led the Lakers to a resounding 123-107 victory in the decisive Game 6.

5 Dwyane Wade, Game 3, 2006 NBA Finals

via sikids.com

Dwyane Wade has become a household name and favorite for Miami Heat fans. In the third game of the NBA finals in 2006 when the Heat went on to beat Dallas Mavericks, Wade was one of the members of the team contributing the most minutes and stats. He picked up the baton and helped to win the game with his team being down 2-0 in the series. He rescued the series and finished Game 3 with 42 points, 2 assists, 2 steals and 13 rebounds. Not surprisingly, the Miami Heat won the NBA title and Wade became the MVP.

4 LeBron James, Game 1, 2009 Eastern Conference Finals

via interbasket.com

After being undefeated in the post season by sweeping the Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons in the first round of the NBA playoffs in 2009, the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James confidently went into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals with the Orlando Magic. Even though his team lost the game and the series, James ended the game with 49 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks and 8 assists.

3 Michael Jordan, Game 2, 1988 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

via nba.com

Talk about persecution and torture; Michael Jordan did just that with every NBA team during his supremacy with the Chicago Bulls. On several occasions, he broke the hearts of the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 1988, when he played in Game 2 of the opening round series with the Cavs, Jordan ended with 55 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals. Who can argue with such greatness? The Bulls were a team on the rise and Jordan's dominance here was a sign of things to come.

2 Michael Jordan, Game 4, 1993 Eastern Conference Semifinals

via thetriangleoffense.com

Jordan cracks the list again for the game against the New York Knicks. If everyone can remember, both the Knicks and Bulls were arch rivals. They competitively hated each other. During Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1993, Jordan landed 6 of his 9 three-point shots. He ended the game with 54 points, 2 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals. The Bulls won the game 105-95. As great as the Knicks teams of the 90's were, they could never find a way to solve MJ.

1 Michael Jordan, Game 3, 1992 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

via cbsus99country.files.wordpress.com

In Miami's American Airlines Arena, everyone can notice the banner with Michael Jordan’s name. This should be representative of Jordan’s play against the Miami Heat in the 1992 playoffs of the Eastern Conference. Out of 18 free throws, Jordan made 16. Out of 30 field goals, he made 20 of them, ending with 56 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and 4 steals. This was Michael Jordan at his best and the Miami Heat showed their respect by putting up the banner in his name.  Who can blame them?

More in NBA