The month of June is a sacred time for NBA players. It’s the time of the year where they have a chance to play for the crown; when men become champions during the NBA Finals. For years, Michael Jordan dominated to the tune of six titles before calling it quits. Then, LeBron James went to eight consecutive Finals, winning three of them. It all comes down to which players want it the most. Who’s giving their all for the love of the game? Here are the most exceptional NBA Finals performances ever.
The Legend Of Tim Duncan Began In 1999
Always underrated never overrated, Tim Duncan was just a pup during the 1999 NBA Finals, but he played like a dog. Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Duncan are the only players to average 25 points, and 12 rebounds in an NBA Finals.
In the 1999 Finals, Duncan averaged 27.4 points and 14 rebounds. The big guy would end up winning Finals MVP and instantly became one of the best in the NBA after that year at only 22-years-old.
Dwyane Wade’s 2006 Reveal
The year 2006 is considered Dwyane Wade’s coming out party. Put simply; Wade was a monster on the court with an aging Shaquille O’Neal by his side. In only his third season, Wade led the Miami Heat to win the series against the Dallas Mavericks after losing the first two games.
After those two losses, the Heat guard didn’t let the Mavericks get another win on his way to averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. He set a Finals record for a six-game series by having 97 free-throw attempts. The 24-year-old put it all on the line for the championship.
Charley Barkley Was Sensational In 1993
The Chicago Bulls won the NBA title in 1993 after they beat the Pheonix Suns. That doesn’t mean that Charles Barkley didn’t have a phenomenal series, though. as sports writer Kelly Scaletta points out he was just another victim of Jordan.
The guy averaged 27.3 points per game to go along with 13 rebounds. It’s either the second or first best performance to come from a player on the losing side. If Jordan hadn’t been the opponent, Barkley would have surely won his first championship.
Michael Jordan Denied Barkley His Ring
Michael Jordan stopped many people from capturing the coveted NBA Finals trophy. His 1993 performances might be his best. His Airness averaged 41 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He did this all against Charles Barkley too.
Jordan also had four 40 point games in this series. At the time, only one player had that many in their career and that was Shaquille O’Neal. The bottom line is, why’d he have to dismantle Barkley’s hopes and dreams in such a dominant manner?
Magic Johson Seven Game Series Against Detroit
Players like Magic Johnson only come around once in a lifetime. The list of players to average 20 points and ten rebounds in the Finals is slim. Johnson did so twice in back-to-back seasons. His 91 assists in 1988 were the most by a player in any Finals over the past 30 years.
Johnson went up against the Bad Boys in Detroit for that series, and it took seven games to get it done. He ended with 21.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 13 assists per game.
Kobe Bryant Saved His Best For 2009
Kobe Bryant went to the Finals many times during his career, but the best show he put on was during the 2009 Finals. The Black Mamba averaged 32.4 points, and 7.4 assists against the Dwight Howard led Orlando Magic. Many thought this would be the year LeBron James and Bryant finally faced off in the Finals, but the Magic had other ideas.
If Bryant ever took anything personally, then it was this Finals series because it was the first time he won a championship without O’Neal as his sidekick. He proved he could do it on his own and in dramatic fashion.
Hakeem Olajuwon’s First Finals Was His Best
When Michael Jordan decided to play baseball, the NBA was wide open. Hakeem Olajuwon capitalized on this and brought the Houston Rockets a ring after a fantastic Finals performance. Not only was his Finals spectacular, but he had an all-time great playoff run.
Olajuwon faced off against another amazing big man, Patrick Ewing. The New York Knicks were no match for Olajuwon as he put up 26.9 points per game and 9.1 rebounds. He also held all-star Ewing to 18.9 points, which is entirely out of character for him.
Michael Jordan’s Last Finals Was A Special One
It was Michael Jordan’s last trip to the Finals, and he made it a special one. The high-flyer had better Finals performances, but in 1998, he gave everyone one of the best NBA moments ever. Jordan averaged 33.5 points on his way to sinking the championship-winning shot in the last seconds.
“Jordan had overcome fatigue and finished with 45 points as he won his sixth Finals Most Valuable Player award while reaffirming his status as the NBA’s best player,” NBA.com wrote.
LeBron James Did The Impossible In 2016
He did it, LeBron James had finally accomplished what he set out to do ever since getting drafted in 2003. James brought a championship to Cleveland like he promised he would, and he did it in one of the most spectacular fashions against the most robust team in the NBA.
James nearly averaged a triple-double as he finished with 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists over a seven-game series. The Warriors had just set a new record for the most regular season wins after they went 73-9. If not for James and company, the Warriors might have had the best season in NBA history.
Shaquille O’Neal Went 15-1 With The 2001 Lakers
The Big Diesel Shaquille O’Neal made many trips to the NBA Finals, and he dominated in most of them. In 2001, Shaq went to work helping propel the Lakers to the best postseason record in history going 15-1.
The Lakers only lost game one of the Finals, but it was also Shaq’s best performance. He scored 44 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in a losing effort. By the time the series was over, he had averaged 33 points and 15.8 rebounds per game.
Michael Jordan Floated In 1991
Pretty much every Michael Jordan Finals performance should make this list. He completely ran the competition over every time he played on that stage. The 1991 Finals would be the first time Jordan tasted what winning a championship was like, and he did it against Magic Johnson.
MJ was the only player over the past 25 years to average double-digits in assists (11.4) and at least 30 points per game (31.2). Jordan also gifted fans with one of the most legendary moves ever. Johnson later described the move, “He changed hands, floated about five more yards and said, ‘Well, I don’t know, I might need to float a little further.’ Then he puts it in off glass.”
Magic Johnson Quieted His Doubters In 1987
There was once a time when Magic Johnson labeled himself as a choker in the NBA Finals. Folks started to call him Tragic Johnson after some late-game meltdowns. In 1987, he put all of the negative talks to bed with his performance.
He practically averaged a triple-double with 26.2 points, 13 assists, and 8.0 rebounds per game. He also gave us the “junior, junior sky hook” to seal one of the games. Larry Bird spoke about the shot after the game. “You expect to lose to the Lakers on a sky-hook,” noted Bird. “You don’t expect it to be from Magic.”
Shaquille O’Neal And The Lakers Three-Peat
Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers looked to complete their three-peat in a series against the New Jersey Nets. They did it by sweeping Jason Kidd and his Nets while averaging nearly a ten-point margin of victory. O’Neal played a massive part in this.
The big man had averages of 36.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks. The Diesel also had 40 points in a blowout victory during game two of this matchup. It simply wasn’t fair.
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway’s 1995 Heartbreak Wasn’t His Fault
The Orlando Magic team led by Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway was a pretty great team. They made it to the Finals in 1995 where they matched up against Hakeem Olajuwon, but they couldn’t pull it off the win. That’s no knock on the stars of Magic because Hardaway’s play was stellar.
The tall point guard averaged 25.5 points and 8.0 assists during this series. Shaq did his part as well and the two combined for the best performance by a losing pair. Olajuwon was too much.
Michael Jordan Even Impressed Himself In 1992
The 1992 NBA Finals put Michael Jordan against Clyde “The Glyde” Drexler. Fans also were blessed enough to witness the famous “Shrug Game,” in which Jordan made six consecutive three-pointers. Jordan, who wasn’t a great shooter at that point yet, came out and said, “Even I can’t explain it.”
Things seemed fine for the Portland Trailblazers until game one started. That’s not a knock to the Blazers but a tremendous boost to the Bulls and Jordan. MJ averaged 35.8 points that series, and it was his most efficient Finals.
2003 Tim Duncan
It’s safe to say that the San Antonio Spurs wouldn’t have as many championships that they have if it weren’t for Tim Duncan. In 2003, the Spurs played the New Jersey Nets in the Finals and Duncan transformed into a different beast.
The “Big Fundamental,” as they call him, averaged 24.2 points, 17 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 5.3 blocks per game! That number of blocks is insane in case you didn’t know. He ALMOST had a quadruple-double in the clinching game of the series when he had a 21 point, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, and eight blocks.
Shaquille O’Neal Was Unstoppable In 2000
Jordan and Shaq have quite the number of appearances on this list, but that’s because no one could stop them in the Finals. The 2000 Finals gave birth to an O’Neal no opponent ever wanted to face. Sure, he had Bryant to play with, but there was nothing anyone could do to contain the big guy.
Shaq averaged 38 points and 16.7 rebounds per game that series. It was arguably the most exceptional performance in a championship matchup the NBA has seen. He scored over 30 in each game and had over 40 in three of them.
LeBron James Proved How Tough He Was In 2015
We have to give credit where it’s due, and LeBron James deserves a ton of it after his 2015 Finals performance. In his first season back with the Cavs after a four-year stint with the Heat, King James led his team to the Finals in what would be the first of many matchups with the Warriors.
Game one saw Kyrie Irving go out with a busted knee and Kevin Love was already out, so it became the James show. Boy did he deliver. James averaged 35.8 points and 13.3 rebounds as it looked like he was going to take out Stephen Curry and company single-handedly. They came up short, but James played on an entirely different level which set up his victory in 2016.
Joe Dumars Scored 17 Straight In 1989
It would be a shame if we didn’t include Joe Dumars. In 1989, his Pistons went up against Magic Johnson and the Lakers, and the results were an iconic performance from Mr. Dumars. He also helped his team avenge the loss from a year earlier to the Lakers.
In a pivotal game three, Dumars went nuts to secure the game for the Pistons. He scored 17 consecutive points and made the Lakers look like they were playing blindfolded. His series averages were 27.3 points and 6.0 assists per game.
Michael Jordan’s Flu Game
The 1997 NBA Finals gets remembered by one iconic moment: The Flu Game. Doctors had told Michael Jordan that it would be impossible to play in game five of the series, but he came out and defied all expectations. Looking incredibly sick on the floor, he still managed to pour in 38 points, five assists, and seven rebounds.
The Bulls ended up closing it out in six games with thanks to Jordan averaging 32.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists. It wasn’t his best Finals statistically speaking, but it was a monumental moment in NBA history.