There have been many unbelievable playoff performances by individuals throughout the NBA’s existence. Basketball is one of the only team sports that can be taken over by an individual. One player can have the ability to take over a game and change its outcome. That is what makes basketball great. When you see great performances, you remember them for as long as you can. The only thing that makes them better is when they are done during the playoffs. Since Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been putting up unbelievable numbers this postseason, I thought I’d put together the top 5 playoff performances of all time.
5) Miller Time: Reggie’s 25 fourth quarter game vs. Knicks
Madison Square Garden was Reggie Miller’s sanctuary. He thrived in big time situations, on big time stages. The regular season was always a warm-up for Reggie Miller. The 6-7 guard saved his best performances on 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. Knicks fans, especially Spike Lee, will always remember what Reggie did to them, but this game was a dagger for all those fans. 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.”
4) Isiah Motors to 43 Points on a Bum Ankle
When did Isiah Thomas officially become a legend in the making? Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals — the third quarter to be precise. The Detroit Pistons were down to the Los Angeles Lakers, 56-48 early in the third, Thomas was in the zone, scoring 14 straight points. Then tragedy struck, Thomas went down. Thomas stepped on Michael Coopers foot on a fastbreak that he had led, 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. 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. “What Isiah Thomas did in the second half was just incredible,” marveled Lakers head coach Pat Riley after the game.
3) Dominique Wilkins vs. Larry Bird 4th Quarter Duel
The Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics were in a classic Eastern Conference Finals showdown. Dominique Wilkins scored 47 but Larry Bird scored 20 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics win, 118-116. Bird guaranteed that the Celtics were going to win Game 7, “They might as well forget it. They’ve got no chance… They had a chance to beat us and we all knew if we lost, it meant vacation tomorrow.” Bird and Wilkins went at it throughout the 4th quarter, one of those duels that basketball players dream about. The Celtics did not lose at the Garden very often and Bird was not going to let it happen, especially in a Game 7.
2) Magic does it all on 1 Night
He calls it his greatest NBA game ever. And when we are talking about one of the greatest players to ever play, he might have a lot of those. But, Magic did this as a rookie in the NBA. 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. Magic, having the personality he had, took a seat at the front of the plane that was taking the team to Philadelphia and said, “Never fear, E.J. is here.” His Lakers teammates did not take him seriously, but they should have. 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.
1) MJ’s Flu Game
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. The Bulls had taken Games 1 and 2, but had fallen and found themselves tied in a series with the Utah Jazz, 2-2. What made matters even worse 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. And boy, did he give it a shot. Not only did MJ play a great game, but he played one of his greatest games ever, all while playing with the flu. 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 finished with 38 points on 13 of 27 shooting in 44 minutes of action and left his coach and teammates in awe. “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.”