The NBA’s greatest players have historically cemented their legacies in the league championship series. Once the NBA Finals are under way, there's no escaping the pressure. The spotlight is at its brightest, and the whole nation is watching. These moments define careers and produce Hall of Famers who will be admired for generations to come.

This list recognizes some of the most outstanding players in NBA history. Each of these greats used the big stage of the Finals to showcase his remarkable ability to produce in crucial moments. Whether it was series-winning shots, career-defining shooting performances, or simply some of the most exceptional displays of talent, the players listed here left an indelible mark on the NBA Finals.

Who has the most Finals points in NBA History?

Elgin Baylor holds the record for the most points in an NBA Finals game with 61 on April 14, 1962. However, Baylor’s teammate Jerry West holds the distinction of being the NBA Finals’ all-time leader in career points. West, who reached his first NBA Finals in 1962 and his last in 1973, accumulated 1,679 points in 55 NBA Finals games.

NBA Finals MVP history

Jerry West's heroic display in the 1969 NBA Finals, even though he played for the losing team, was so outstanding that he became the first player to win the Finals MVP award. No other player since has won the award without also winning the league championship -- a testament to just how impressive West's performance was.

Michael Jordan, who won a record six NBA Finals MVP awards, is widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time, thanks in no small part to his exceptional performances in the playoffs’ final round. His incredible skill and athleticism were on full display during some of the best Finals performances ever, which helped him lead the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships.

Ranking the 10 best NBA Finals Performances of All Time

  1. Bill Russell, Boston Celtics -- 1962 vs. Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Finals Averages: 22.9 points, 27 rebounds, 5.7 assists
Awards: n/a (The Finals MVP award was introduced at the end of Russell’s career in 1969)

Bill Russell's 12 appearances in the NBA Finals are a testament to his legendary status, and his remarkable career could fill this list on its own. It's no easy feat to choose just one standout year for the Boston Celtics icon, but the 1962 series against Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and the Los Angeles Lakers stands out.

In that series, which went the full seven games, Russell played in every minute of five of the first six games and dominated the rebounding stats like no one else. It was typical of his prowess throughout his career. His incredible talent and experience in the NBA Finals – his 70 Finals games remain the league record -- helped the Celtics reach Game 7.

In an unforgettable overtime match, Russell's ability to seize the moment was on full display as he grabbed an unbelievable 40 rebounds in 53 minutes to lock up yet another championship for the Celtics. It was just one more unforgettable performance in a career that produced some of the most awe-inspiring moments in NBA Finals history.

  1. Larry Bird, Boston Celtics -- 1984 vs. Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Finals Average: 27.4 points, 14 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.1 steals
Awards: 1984 NBA Finals MVP

The 1984 NBA Finals series between Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers is arguably the greatest playoff series of all time, because it brought these NBA legends together at the very peak of their careers. It wasn’t just about Magic and Bird either, since 1984 also gave us yet another chapter in the storied rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers.

In 1984, Boston led the league with 62 victories, and Bird, the NBA’s MVP, raised his game in the Finals with the whole nation watching. Los Angeles initially went up 2-1 in the series. Heading into Game 4, Bird criticized his own teammates for "playing like sissies.” He then led by example, scoring 29 points with 21 rebounds in Game 4 to lift the Celtics back into the series at 2-2. His critical jump shot in overtime broke a tie and gave the Celtics a lead they would not relinquish.

From that point on, it was a Larry Bird takeover. He delivered impressive performances in the fifth and sixth games and was eventually named the Finals MVP after the Celtics clinched the championship against L.A.

  1. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat -- 2006 vs. Dallas Mavericks

NBA Finals Averages: 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.7 steals
Awards: 2006 NBA Finals MVP

In just his third NBA season, Miami’s Dwyane Wade helped lead the Heat to an NBA Finals appearance against the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas, which had won 60 games during the regular season, got the series off to a strong start by winning Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 of the Finals, Wade helped Miami turn the tide. His exceptional stat line of 42 points and 13 rebounds -- along with his role in leading the Heat back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter -- sparked the team. It was a crucial victory that prevented Miami from falling into an insurmountable 3-0 hole and energized the franchise in its series comeback bid.

Wade continued to dominate in Game 4, scoring 36 points. He was so aggressive in Game 5 that he set a new NBA Finals record with 25 free-throws attempts – 21 of which he made. He also contributed 43 points in Game 5 as the Heat won their third straight to move within one win of the championship.

Miami trailed by a double-digit margin at halftime of Game 6, but Wade's energetic performance inspired the team to rally for a 95-92 win that made the Heat champions. Wade finished the game with 36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and four steals. He had 16 total steals in the six-game series and was named the NBA Finals MVP.

  1. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls -- 1998 vs. Utah Jazz

NBA Finals Averages: 33.5 points, 4 rebounds, 2.3 assists
Awards: 1998 NBA Finals MVP

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest player the NBA playoffs have ever seen. With six NBA Finals MVP awards to his name, Jordan can claim some of the best championship-round performances of all time. He was a perfect 6-0 in his trips to the Finals, never losing in the series that mattered most.

Jordan appears on this list more than once, and it would have been easy to include an additional MJ performance from the 1991 NBA Finals. That was the year he won his first championship against an experienced Magic Johnson and the L.A. Lakers.

That said, in 1998 Jordan and the Bulls were looking to finish off their second three-peat. They had dominated the NBA Finals for three straight years from 1991 to 1993, and after two more championships in 1996 and 1997, they were ready to make it another three in a row. Standing in their way was a talented Jazz team. Led by John Stockton and Karl Malone, Utah had finished the 1997-98 regular season atop the NBA’s Western Conference.

Jordan's exceptional performance in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals saw him lead the Bulls in scoring and sink the game-winning shot at the buzzer. It was one of the best Finals performances ever.

Although the Jazz had gone up by three points after a late Stockton bucket, Jordan made a layup, reducing the deficit to one point. After the Jazz came back down the court, Jordan stole the ball off a Stockton pass and dribbled it back the other way. He then crossed over Byron Russell, took a step to his left, and sank one of the most famous mid-range shots of his career -- clinching the Bulls' sixth championship and completing the three-peat.

Jordan's clutch performance in the NBA Finals was remarkable, and his Game 6 heroics served as a fitting final chapter for the 1990s Chicago Bulls dynasty.

  1. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors -- 2017 vs. Utah Jazz

NBA Finals Averages: 35.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists
Awards: 2017 NBA Finals MVP

Kevin Durant was the unanimous choice for NBA Finals MVP honors after the Golden State Warriors’ 2017 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavs were the defending champions and had beaten Golden State in the finals the previous season. However, the Warriors, who had won the title two years earlier, had plans to regain it in 2017. They had added Kevin Durant in the hope of doing so. 

While Steph Curry and Klay Thompson had been the mainstays of the Warriors’ playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, it was Durant who took over in the 2017 NBA Finals.

Durant scored 38 points in Game 1, 33 points in Game 2, and 31 points in Game 3. The Game 3 effort included a clutch go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute that ended up being the difference. He also kept the Warriors in contention during Game 4, while Curry and Co struggled with their shooting, and enabled Golden State to take a 3-1 series lead.

With a team-high 39 points, KD rivaled Cleveland’s LeBron James throughout Game 5. That exceptional performance helped Golden State pull away from the Cavs and secure the championship. It was a special moment for Durant, who had played for an Oklahoma City Thunder team that lost to LeBron's Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals. Five years later, he finally got his hands on the elusive NBA championship trophy with the bonus of defeating LeBron in the process.

  1. Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers -- 2000 vs. Indiana Pacers

NBA Finals Averages: 38 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.3 blocks
Awards: 2000 NBA Finals MVP

If you’re looking for sheer dominance on a basketball court, look no further than what Shaquille O’Neal did in the 2000 NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

Shaq posted some of the best NBA Finals scoring stats of all time in that series. Over the six-game matchup, he averaged 38 points per game and completely owned the boards with an average of 16.7 rebounds per game.

After being swept by San Antonio in the 1999 Western Conference Finals, the Lakers hired Phil Jackson as their head coach. Jackson built his infamous offense around Shaq and Kobe. The Lakers’ big man had 43 points and 19 rebounds in the 2000 NBA Finals opener, setting the tone for the Lakers’ 17-point margin of victory at the Staples Center.

Indiana head coach Larry Bird ordered his team to employ what became known as the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy for Game 2. This strategy focused on fouling Shaq as often as possible and making him shoot free throws. Shaq set the NBA playoff record with 39 free throws attempts in Game 2. Until that point, no player had ever attempted more than 24 free throws in an NBA Finals game

Shaq also hit the go-ahead bucket in the fourth quarter of Game 6. The Lakers never gave up their lead after that and went on to wrap up the championship. Shaq received the NBA Finals MVP award after a series that will always be remembered for him putting on some of the greatest NBA Finals performances in league history. Shaq was simply unstoppable.

  1. Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers - - 1980 vs. Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Finals Averages: 21.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 2.7 steals
Awards: 1980 NBA Finals MVP 

If you’re good enough to win the NBA Finals MVP award as a rookie, you belong on this list. Magic Johnson was in his very first NBA season when the Lakers faced a talented Philadelphia team in the 1980 NBA Finals, but he showed he belonged in the most emphatic way.

In Game 1, Magic recorded a triple-double – a feat he repeated in Game 5 of the closely contested series. However, Game 6 was where he truly left his mark.

In winning Game 5, the Lakers lost Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to an ankle injury, which ruled him out of the sixth game. Fans were understandably concerned, since Kareem was a vital part of the franchise and had just scored 40 points in the Game 5 win that gave Los Angeles a 3-2 series lead.

What happened next was unprecedented. Johnson, a rookie guard from Michigan State, stepped up and played center during Game 6 of the NBA Finals. He had never played the position before, and making one’s debut at a new position in a potential NBA championship-winning game is far from ideal.

Not only did he cover the position for his team, he dominated. Magic had 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals in Game 6, leading the Lakers to their championship in astonishing fashion. Some might say it was the best NBA Finals performance ever, and that would be hard to argue.

Magic Johnson remains the only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award.

  1. Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers -- 1969 vs. Boston Celtics

NBA Finals Averages: 37.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists
Awards: 1969 NBA Finals MVP 

Only one player has won the NBA Finals MVP award despite playing for the series’ losing team. That player is Jerry West.

In 1969, West got the NBA Finals series against Boston off to a rousing start with 53 points and 10 assists in Game 1, followed by 41 points and eight assists in Game 2. One of the very best scoring threats of the 20th Century, West was unstoppable in the 1969 Finals.

West. who averaged just under 38 points per game in the series, had his toughness tested in Game 5. The Lakers were scrapping it out with Boston, and West pulled his hamstring while lunging in an effort to recover a stolen pass. Carried off the court, West refused to let the pain knock him out of the series and played the two remaining games on his injured leg.

West had a tremendous triple-double in Game 7: 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists. Although the Lakers came up short in their bid for the championship, losing 108-106 in Game 7, West was still named the Finals’ MVP. His stats in the series were certainly championship-worthy. While he didn’t get his ring that, year, he did finally get one three years later in 1972.

  1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers -- 2016 vs. Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals Averages: 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, 2.3 blocks
Awards: 2016 NBA Finals MVP 

After a heart-breaking defeat in the 2015 NBA Finals, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers got a shot at redemption in 2016 when they drew the Golden State Warriors as their Finals opponent for a second consecutive year.

Golden State jumped out to a 3-1 series lead in the 2016 matchup and looked to be on the brink of back-to-back titles at the Cavaliers’ expense.

Prior to 2016, no team had ever overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals. However, in a display of sheer determination, LeBron James and the Cavaliers delivered one of the greatest Game 5 performances of all time. Driven by a stunning 41 points from LeBron at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., the Cavs spoiled the celebration for Warriors fans expecting to see the series end that night.

The Game 5 win helped Cleveland bounce back. The Cavs returned home for Game 6, and Lebron put on another 41-point show. Incredibly, he had managed back-to-back 41-point performances while facing elimination on the NBA's biggest stage.

Back in Oakland for Game 7, the Cavaliers needed to dig deep and give it their all once more if they were going to score an upset on the Warriors' home court. LeBron played an incredible 47 minutes, registered a triple-double, and delivered one of the most perfectly timed blocks in NBA history to deny an Andre Iguodala layup with under two minutes remaining.

The Cavs won the series and completed the only comeback from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. They made history with one of the best Game 7 performances the league had ever seen. LeBron was named the series MVP after leading Cleveland to its first NBA championship. It wasn’t just a great moment for Cavs fans, since all basketball fans had been treated to one of the best NBA Finals series in recent memory.

  1. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls -- 1993 vs. Phoenix Suns

NBA Finals Averages: 41 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals
Awards: 1993 NBA Finals MVP 

In 1993, Michael Jordan set the league record for points-per-game average during the NBA Finals. Jordan’s 1993 NBA finals stats were off the charts. He averaged 41 points per game as the Bulls completed the first of their two 1990s three-peats. Despite their best efforts, the Phoenix Suns just couldn’t stop him.

Talented Suns player Kevin Johnson had been assigned to guard MJ for Games 1 and 2, but Johnson’s performance was terrible. To turn things around, Phoenix coach Paul Westphal switched Johnson off Jordan for Game 3, hoping that it would help Johnson regain his form in the series.

While that move worked, MJ remained unstoppable, regardless of who was guarding him. In Game 4, the Bulls superstar scored 55 points in one of his best NBA playoff performances. That included a clutch drive to help Chicago pull away late in the fourth quarter.

Jordan scored at least 40 points in four straight 1993 Finals games and was the difference in the decisive Game 6. John Paxson’s championship-winning 3-pointer was the only bucket scored by a Bulls player other than Jordan in the game’s fourth quarter. By the time it was over, MJ had won his third title, his third NBA Finals MVP award, and cemented his legacy as one of the all-time greatest championship-round players in NBA history.

Parameters for ranking

After considering more than 20 exceptional NBA Finals performances, this list was narrowed down to 10 based on each player's impact on his series. These rankings factor in clutch moments in late-game situations as well as overall performances throughout an entire series. The final list features the best NBA playoff performance of all time.

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