What makes a player truly great, is the ability to play his absolute best on the biggest stage. Many good players have simply failed to take their game to the next level when it mattered most. The greatest set themselves apart when all the chips are on the table.
The NBA Finals are the biggest stage the game basketball has to offer. Good players can become stars, if they are able to elevate their game to new heights. When the conversation of the greatest players in history surfaces, it’s usually centered around the number of championships those players have won.
So which players had the greatest performances in NBA Finals history?
1. Michael Jordan – 1993 NBA Finals
In the waning moments of the 1993 NBA season, Michael Jordan was clearly the greatest basketball player in the world. His Chicago Bulls were facing then NBA MVP Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns. MJ was eying his third consecutive championship, and we all know he was not going to be denied. Jordan dominated the series with an average of 41 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. His greatest performance in the series was in Game 5, in which he infamously scored 55 points, as the Bulls took home a critical victory. Jordan was able to complete his first Three-Peat. As he was on top of the basketball world, he shortly thereafter announced his first retirement from the game.
2. Shaquille O’Neal – 2000 NBA Finals
In his prime, Shaq was one of the most dominant players in NBA history. His dominance was on full display during the 2000 NBA Finals. Despite a very worthy opponent in the form of the talented Indiana Pacers, O’Neal strung together six-game stretch, during which he averaged 38 points and 16.7 rebounds per game. He also added 2.7 blocks each time out on the court. In other words, he set the tone by dominating the paint, and there was nothing his opponent could do to even slow him down.
3. Tim Duncan – 2003 NBA Finals
Duncan was always a class-act, known for his quiet demeanor, yet highly efficient game on the court. The Spurs were looking to establish themselves as the top team in the league, which they were ultimately able to do, in part due to Duncan’s performance in this series, which sparked the team’s consistency in the following years.
Duncan’s contributions were highly dynamic, as he made his presence felt on both sides of the court. Over the course of the series, he put up 24.2 points and 5.3 assists per game. He also added a staggering 17 rebounds and 5.3 blocks each time out, helping his team win the NBA title in six games. In Game 6, Duncan put on a show, with a rare triple-double. His 21 points, 20 rebounds, ten assists, and eight blocked shots, helped seal the deal in the Spurs championship run.
4. LeBron James – 2016 NBA Finals
King James earned his title in 2016, when he led his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to the most improbable comeback victory in NBA Finals history. Facing a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors, James led the Cavs to become the only team to ever win a championship after trailing three games to one in the Finals. His triple-double in the deciding Game 7 was the pinnacle of a brilliant series, during which he averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, and 2.6 steals per game. This victory was enormous for the entire city of Cleveland, which hadn’t experienced a championship in any sport for 52 years.