Greatest Finals performances: No. 1
Editor's note: We're ranking the best Finals performances since the NBA-ABA merger. This list was originally published during the 2008 Finals and is now updated through the 2011 Finals.
The NBA Finals have produced a ton of incredible performances in the three decades since the NBA-ABA merger, starting with Bill Walton's supreme effort against the Sixers in 1977 and going all the way through to Dirk's heroics against the Heat in this year's series.
But inevitably, some of them made more of an impact than others, both on the stat sheet and in other, more subjective terms. And for that reason, some resonate much more than others when we talk about the great moments in Finals history.
That's where this project comes in. Using both numbers and a healthy dose of opinion, my task is to rank the top 50 individual NBA Finals performances since the merger. I've included the player efficiency rating (PER) of every player in the top 50 as a guide, but this wasn't my only measuring stick. Basically, everything counts: competition, defense, clutch play, winning, durability ... it all matters.
From that, we can whittle down a list of top performances. Subjectively, you may agree or disagree with where a given effort ranks -- this isn't the type of exercise where there are right and wrong answers. But in at least one man's view, here's how the 50 best performances since the merger go, from 1 to 50:
Points per game: 34.7
Boards per game: 7.8
Steals per game: 2.7
1. Dwyane Wade, Miami, 2006
It's hard to overstate how awesome Wade was in leading the Heat to their lone championship, particularly in the final four games when Miami rallied from a 2-0 deficit to stun the Mavs.
Wade started the comeback by leading the Heat back from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit in Game 3, scoring 12 points in the final 6½ minutes to send the game to OT. He also made the biggest play of the series with his crazy dribbling foray to the rim at the end of overtime in Game 5 that -- controversially -- earned a whistle from referee Bennett Salvatore and a trip to the line for the winning free throws.
For the series, Wade averaged 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.7 steals -- and this in a slow-paced series (neither team cleared the century mark in regulation in any of the six games). His basket attacks were so deadly because the Mavs couldn't stop fouling him. Wade shot a whopping 97 free throws in the six games -- the most of any player since the merger -- including 25 in Game 5.
Overall, Wade's 33.8 PER is easily the best of any Finals performer since the merger. While it seems strange to have somebody besides Michael Jordan in the top spot, the truth is Jordan never dominated a Finals to this extent. At the time, many called Wade's performance Jordanesque. It turns out they might have been selling him short.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.
Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference.com contributed research to this list.