A few years ago, we told you who we thought had the best all-time performances in NBA finals history (and you told us, too). This year, we decided to take a look at the best single-game playoff performances, starting with great games that came before the finals.
10. Cousy's 4-OT free-throw shooting show
The time: Eastern Division Semifinals, March 21, 1953
The place: Boston Garden
The matchup: Syracuse Nationals vs. Celtics
The skinny: The Celtics and Nats were almost evenly matched, with Boston finishing in third place in the tight Eastern Division, only a game behind Syracuse. The Celtics won the first game of the three-game series, 87-81.
The show: Cousy led the Celtics to a 111-105 quadruple-OT win almost single-handedly, scoring a playoff record 50 points with 10 field goals and a remarkable 30 for 32 from the free-throw line. With five seconds remaining in the third overtime, Cousy sank a perimeter shot to tie the game at 99, and then scored nine points in the fourth OT to seal the game and series for Boston.
9. Miller drops 25 on the Knicks in the fourth
The time: Eastern Conference Finals, June 1, 1994
The place: Madison Square Garden
The matchup: Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks
The skinny: The Knicks had been up 2-0 in the series, but the Pacers had won the next two games to even it up at 2-2 coming into this fifth game.
The show: The Pacers trailed by 12 going into the fourth quarter, but Miller simply stunned the Knicks by pouring in a playoff-record five fourth-quarter threes, and 10 points during a 14-0 Pacers spurt that gave Indiana a 75-72 lead with 7:39 left. The Pacers won 93-86 to take a 3-2 series lead. Miller finished with 25 points in the quarter and 39 points in the game. And he had the supreme pleasure of doing it all right in front of a sideline-sitting, trash-talking Spike Lee. "You might not ever see shooting like that again in your life," said Indiana coach Larry Brown "I've seen a lot in my career, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a performance like that in circumstances like these."
8. Stockton's pass, shoot and steal contest
The time: Western Conference Semifinals, May 17, 1988
The place: The Forum
The matchup: Jazz vs. Lakers
The skinny: The Lakers, who finished the regular season with a 62-20 record, looked unbeatable. But the Jazz were hanging tough and the series was tied at 2-2.
The show: Michael Cooper would hit a jumper with 7 seconds left to give the Lakers a slim 111-109 win in this game, but it was pure drive by Stockton that kept the Jazz within striking distance. Stockton tied Magic Johnson's playoff record with 24 assists, and added 23 points and five steals -- including two in the last 64 seconds, which, against any other team, would have been enough. Stockton played all 48 minutes, and, he said, "This is the most fun I've ever had playing basketball. Nothing can compare to this game."
7. Bernard's got a fever, and he's hot
The time: First round, Eastern Conference playoffs, April 27, 1984
The place: Joe Louis Arena in Detroit
The matchup: Knicks vs. Pistons
The skinny: Best of five series tied at 2-2. Major duel between King, who'd scored 36, 46, 46, and 41 points in the first four games, and Isiah Thomas.
The show: King, playing with two dislocated fingers and a 102-degree fever, scored 44 points to set an NBA scoring record for a five-game series. What put King's courageous performance over the top was that he scored 14 of the Knicks final 30 points with five fouls, and sat for eight minutes in the third quarter because of his foul trouble. Thomas was also awesome, scoring the Pistons' last 16 points in regulation. The Knicks won the game in OT, 127-123, and the series, three games to two.
6. AI's double-trophy night
The time: Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 5, May 16, 2001
The place: "Philadephia's First Union Center
The matchup: Raptors vs. Sixers
The skinny: Iverson had scored a career-high 54 points in Game 2, Vince Carter answered with a career-high 50 points in Game 3. Series tied at 2-2. David Stern presents AI with MVP trophy before start of game.
The show: Iverson's got to be on this list, and we'll pick his second 50 because he became only the second player ever, besides Jordan, to score 50+ in two games in one playoff series -- in other words, Toronto knew what was coming. But Iverson was unstoppable: He went 21 of 32 from the floor and hit 8 of 14 on threes to finish with 52 points, even though he took a seat with about five minutes left, with his Sixers enjoying a comfortable lead (they would win, 121-88). "People say I have a flaw in my game -- I'm not able to make the outside shot," Iverson said after the game. "My whole thing is to punish people when they back up off me."
5. Chamberlain dominates Russell
The time: Eastern Conference Finals, Game 3, May 5, 1967
The place: Convention Hall in Philadelphia
The matchup: Celtics vs. Sixers
The skinny: The Sixers dominated the regular season, setting a record by going 68-13. For the first time in a long time, Wilt had a superior supporting cast as Philly finished eight games up on Boston in the East. They also led 2 games to 0 over the defending champs going into Game 3.
The show: This was Wilt's year, and he dominated this game, completely overshadowing his nemesis, Bill Russell. Chamberlain broke Russell's playoff record by grabbing 41 rebounds. He also scored 20 points (vs. Russell's 10, although to be fair Russell also had 29 rebounds and 10 assists). The Sixers won the game, 115-104, and went on to win the series, 4 games to 1.
4. MJ carries Bulls, silences Knicks
The time: Eastern Conference Finals, Game 4, May 31, 1993
The place: Chicago Stadium
The matchup: Knicks vs. Bulls
The skinny: The Knicks led the series 2-1 going into the game. Jordan had been playing poorly (he had gone just 3-18 in Game 3), and wasn't talking to the media.
The show: Jordan scored 54 points to almost single-handedly beat the Knicks as the Bulls evened the series. He went 18 of 30 from the floor, mostly from long range (he hit six 3-pointers) as the Bulls won, 105-95. MJ's points didn't come easy; John Starks guarded him well throughout the game, but Jordan just pumped them home even with Starks all over him. "Michael Jordan had an outrageous day," said Phil Jackson. "He bailed us out with a number of great shots, in rhythm. He found a way to keep us up 10 points, 11 points."
3. Charles is no punk
The time: Western Conference round 1, Game 3, May 4, 1994
The place: The Coliseum Arena in Oakland
The matchup: Suns vs. Warriors
The skinny: Suns up two games to nil in best-of-five series between the league's two highest-scoring teams. Sir Charles had some fuel to burn: a Warrior had called him a "punk" during Game 2.
The show: Charles got angry, and came out smokin', going 11 for 11 and scoring 27 points in the first quarter. When it was all over, the Suns had won the game 140-133. And Barkley made his point, over and over, scoring 56 on 23-for-31 shooting, and adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
2. The shootout: Larry vs. Dominique
The time: Eastern Conference Semis, Game 7, May 22, 1988
The place: Boston Garden
The matchup: Hawks vs. Celtics
The skinny: The Celtics were, at the time, almost unbeatable at Boston Garden, especially in Game 7's. But the Hawks and Dominique Wilkins made it interesting.
The show: If we could have a top 15 or 20 list, both Bird and Wilkins would have had separate entries for their performances in this classic game. Both played superb, gutty ball, with Wilkins scoring 47 points and Bird 34 in the Celtics' 118-116 victory.
The real story came in the fourth quarter, when Bird poured in 20 points on 9 of 10 from the field, while Wilkins almost -- but not quite -- matched him, scoring 16 in the last 12 minutes. Kevin McHale, who scored 33 points himself, guarded Wilkins. "That's the hardest I've ever worked and had a guy still get 47 points," he said. "I was draped all over him."
1. Jordan's 63
The time: Eastern Conference round one, Game 2, April 20, 1986
The place: Boston Garden
The matchup: Bulls vs. Celtics
The skinny: Jordan had played in only 18 regular-season games after breaking his foot. Bulls trailed one game to none.
The show: In only his second NBA season, MJ showed one of the best teams in NBA history that he was the future. Although the Bulls lost in double-OT, Jordan scored 63 points, still a playoff record, and was unguardable. "I didn't think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us," said Bird. "He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan."
Also receiving votes:
Thanks to Keith Lipscomb and Eric Neel for research assistance.