With the 2021 NBA Playoffs kicking off this week, it’s worth looking back on the top 5 NBA postseason performances of the modern era, which we’ll define as after the 1976 ABA-NBA merger. Additionally, this list does NOT include any moments from the NBA Finals, as that list will come out closer to the NBA Finals. Now with that out of the way, let’s get to the countdown of the top NBA playoff performances.
Top 5 NBA Postseason Performances Of The Modern Era
Honorable Mention: Klay Thompson’s Historic Three-Point Barrage (2016 Western Conference Finals)
Before he set the record for most three-pointers in a regular-season game (14), Thompson established the record for most treys in a postseason game.
In Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals, the Golden State Warriors’ historic season was on the line. After winning a record 73 games during the regular season, the Warriors were facing elimination on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Golden State needed a spark, and Thompson provided it by draining 11 of his 18 three-point attempts, shattering the previous record of 9 triples with a legendary shooting performance. Thompson would finish with 41 points overall, leading the Warriors to a series-tying 108-101 victory.
5. Charles Barkley’s Huge Triple-Double vs. Seattle SuperSonics (1993 Western Conference Finals)
Barkley gets knocked for never winning an NBA championship, but that was hardly his fault. He had some truly epic postseason performances, including several in this series alone.
With the Western Conference Finals deadlocked at 2-2, Barkley let loose against Seattle in Game 5. On top of scoring 43 points, “The Round Mound of Rebound" grabbed 15 boards and dished out 10 assists. He added 2 blocks and 2 steals for good measure, leading the Phoenix Suns to a 120-114 victory.
Barkley’s triple-double was remarkably efficient as well, as he drilled 16 of his 22 field goal attempts and was a perfect 11-for-11 from the charity stripe.
4. Hakeem Olajuwon’s Monster Game vs Seattle SuperSonics (1987 Western Conference Semifinals)
Olajuwon was destined to be overshadowed by the likes of Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal for much of his career. However, he did manage to win a couple of titles when Jordan briefly retired to play baseball.
That would come later, though. Olajuwon was only in his third season in 1987 when he and the Rockets were trying to repeat as Western Conference champions.
With Houston facing elimination in Game 6 of the Western Conference semis, Olajuwon did everything he could to keep their season alive, amassing 49 points, 25 rebounds, and 6 blocks. The Rockets pushed the Sonics to double overtime, only to fall 128-125 despite Olajuwon’s heroics.
3. Luka Dončić Does It All vs. Los Angeles Clippers (2020 Western Conference First Round)
It was only last summer that Dončić turned in a postseason performance for the ages. In Game 4 of the first round against the Clippers, Dončić authored one of the most impressive all-around games in NBA history.
Not only did he post 43 points, 17 rebounds, and 13 assists, but he also sunk a game-winning buzzer-beater in overtime to give the Dallas Mavericks a thrilling 135-133 victory, evening the series at two games apiece. In addition to pulling Dallas out of a 21-point hole earlier in the game, Dončić became the youngest player ever to hit a game-winning buzzer-beater in the playoffs.
Not bad for a 21-year-old.
2. LeBron James Takes Over Game 5 vs Detroit Pistons (2007 Eastern Conference Finals)
It seems like ages ago now, but there was a time when LeBron hadn’t even played in an NBA Finals game yet. That was all the way back in 2007 when James was just a 22-year-old kid looking to make his mark on the NBA.
Well, he’s made a mark alright, and Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals was one of his first signature moments. With the Eastern Conference Finals tied at two games apiece against the Pistons, LeBron led his Cleveland Cavaliers to a 109-107 double-overtime victory.
With the Cavs clinging to a one-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, James literally took over, scoring 29 of Cleveland’s final 30 points to single-handedly will his team to victory. LeBron finished with 48 points, 9 boards, 7 assists, and 2 steals in one of the greatest postseason displays you’ll ever see.
1. Michael Jordan Erupts For 63 Points vs Boston Celtics (1986 Eastern Conference First Round)
It’s hard to imagine Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls being the underdog, but that’s exactly what they were against the 1985-1986 Boston Celtics, who were coming off a 67-15 regular season. The Celtics were unbeatable at the Boston Garden that year, losing just one game at home all season (playoffs included). Jordan, meanwhile, was only in his second season and had never won a playoff series before.
After the Celtics won the opener in Chicago, the series shifted to Boston for Game 2. Undaunted by the Celtics’ home-court advantage, Jordan lit up the Garden for 63 points without attempting a single three-pointer. While the Celtics ultimately prevailed in double-overtime, MJ had earned the respect of Larry Bird. “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan," remarked Bird, who’d seen his fair share of top NBA playoff performances.
After 35 years, Jordan’s 63 points remain the single-game postseason record. It has survived the sport’s proliferation of threes as well as challenges from LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, and others. Yet, even in defeat, Jordan still won.
Thanks for reading The Game Day’s Top 5 NBA Postseason Performances Of The Modern Era! Be sure to check out our 2021 NBA Championship Winner Odds & Bet Picks and 2021 NBA Finals MVP Picks: Odds, Predictions & Best Bets.