Top 10 Individual Single-Game Performances in Sixers Playoffs History
Julius Erving, Allen Iverson, Moses Malone and more -- the Sixers bloodline features many legends. Ranking the 10 greatest individual performances in 76ers playoff history.
Over the years, the NBA playoffs have seen many of the league’s all-time greats in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform, and each of these players has contributed to the team's consistent postseason success. Which of the legendary performances by Julius Erving, Allen Iverson, Moses Malone, and Wilt Chamberlain stand out among the greatest individual efforts in the Sixers’ history of postseason play?
When was the last time the 76ers won a championship?
The 76ers’ last championship came at the end of the 1982-83 season, when Philadelphia defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-game sweep of the 1983 NBA Finals. Those Sixers had a dominant force in superstar Julius Erving. Their roster also featured starters Moses Malone at center and Maurice Cheeks at guard, plus a young Andrew Toney off the bench.
Philly won the first two games at home before a statement win in Game 3 on the Lakers’ court at the Forum put the championship within the Sixers’ grasp. They completed the sweep in Game 4, led by a stunning performance on the boards from Malone. The victory gave Philadelphia its first NBA championship since 1967.
Sixers Playoff History
The 76ers' postseason history is among the strongest of any NBA team. They were a regular presence in the playoffs during the league’s early years, making 22 straight appearances between 1949 and 1971. They won two championships during that era, including the 1955 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons and the 1967 Finals against the San Francisco Warriors.
Philadelphia made four playoff appearances during Julius Erving’s sensational NBA career. The 76ers came up short in the first three before finally claiming the team’s third NBA championship in the 1983 Finals vs. the “Showtime Lakers”, a high-flying Los Angeles team led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
When Allen Iverson shot to stardom, Philly again became a playoff contender and broke a seven-year drought without a postseason appearance in the 1990s. Iverson led Philadelphia to another NBA Finals in 2001, but the Lakers proved too much for them that time around, and the Sixers went out in five games.
Philadelphia has become a regular in the playoffs once again in recent years, and the Sixers are now on a seven-year streak of postseason appearances. Their key challenge of late has been overcoming the title-contending Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, who have stood in their way as they pursue another trip to the NBA Finals.
Ranking the Top 10 Greatest NBA Playoff Individual Performances in Philadelphia 76ers History
- Tyrese Maxey -- 2023 First Round vs Brooklyn Nets, Game 3
The Sixers won Games 1 and 2 of this year’s opening-round series against the Brooklyn Nets before heading to New York for the series’ third and fourth games.
The Nets had done a stellar job double-teaming Sixers MVP candidate Joel Embiid through the first two games, and the Sixers needed other scoring outlets in this Eastern conference encounter. Enter Tyrese Maxey, who turned in a key performance that ended with a 76ers playoff record.
Embiid scored only 14 points in Game 3, and Sixers guard James Harden was ejected for a controversial push-off, forcing Maxey to step up and keep the Sixers’ hope of a series sweep alive.
Maxey answered the bell with a 25-point performance that included 5-for-8 shooting from 3-point range. He broke the previous 76ers career playoff record for games with at least five 3-pointers. That record had been held by J.J. Redick and Seth Curry, who each had four total playoff games with at least five 3-pointers. Maxey’s Game 3 effort gave him five, solidifying his place in his team’s playoff history and helping the Sixers win the series in a sweep.
- Billy Cunningham -- 1970 Conference Semifinals vs Milwaukee Bucks, Game 4
Only one player not named Allen Iverson can be found in the Sixers’ top five all-time single-game playoff scoring leaders. Iverson holds four of the top five spots, but Billy Cunningham's performance against the Milwaukee Bucks in 1970 is right there with Iverson at No. 4 overall. Indeed, Cunningham and Iverson are the only two 76ers players to reach 50 points a playoff game.
Cunningham’s big game is often forgotten because the Sixers struggled in their 1970 series vs. Milwaukee – losing it 4-1 -- but his achievement in Game 4 was outstanding.
The Sixers legend had been part of the team’s 1967 championship squad as its sixth man. Three years later, he was helping the team navigate the playoffs once again. He scored 50 points in the 118-111 Game 4 loss to the Bucks, and while Philadelphia didn’t advance, Cunningham’s legacy managed to grow stronger.
- Allen Iverson -- 2003 First Round vs New Orleans Hornets, Game 6
The Sixers led their 2003 opening-round series against the Hornets 3-2 going into Game 6 at New Orleans, and Allen Iverson was setting the tone once again as the team hoped to make another run at the NBA Finals.
Iverson and the Hornets’ Jamal Mashburn were going toe-to-toe with high-scoring performances in the potential series-deciding Game 6, but it was AI who came out on top. He never came off the floor at any point during the game.
The Sixers point guard dropped 45 points in 48 minutes, including the go-ahead bucket with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. He shot 13-for-18 from the free-throw line in a physical game, and sealed the win with the series’ final two free throws to give the Sixers a four-point lead with less than three seconds to play.
- Andre Iguodala -- 2012 First Round vs Chicago Bulls, Game 6
Andre Iguodala’s series-ending heroism against the Chicago Bulls in the 2012 playoffs was one of the most electrifying moments in Philadelphia 76ers history. In fact, the entire 2012 Philadelphia-Chicago series made for a stunning David vs. Goliath story.
The Bulls were the No. 1 seed, while the Sixers had barely qualified for the playoffs as a No. 8 seed despite their hot start in the regular season. Before Iguodala took over, Chicago had led Game 6 in Philadelphia by a score of 78-77 and was on the verge of tying the opening-round series at 3-3. That would have forced the Sixers to play a Game 7 back in Chicago.
Bulls center Omer Asik missed two free throws that could have all but iced the game for Chicago, and with seven seconds on the clock, the Sixers were down by one point. Iguodala grabbed the rebound of Asik’s missed second foul shot and went coast-to-coast down the court before being fouled by Asik under Chicago’s basket.
The 76ers small forward stepped up to the foul line and drained both free throws, giving Philly the lead in front of its home crowd with 2.2 seconds left to play. The Bulls had no timeouts left, and their desperation half-court attempt bounced off the glass, sending the Sixers to the next round after knocking out the top seed in a phenomenal series upset.
- Julius Erving -- 1977 NBA Finals vs Portland Trail Blazers, Game 6
Sixers fans quickly grew to love Julius Erving, who had joined the franchise following the ABA-NBA merger of 1976. Dr. J, who had won two ABA championships in the previous three seasons, wasted no time in becoming a dominant NBA force.
He was truly an overnight sensation in Philadelphia. In his first season with the team, he led the Sixers to the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade, setting up a showdown with Bill Walton and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Philly won the 1977 Finals’ first two games at home, but the Sixers quickly fell behind after dropping Games 3, 4, and 5. That set up a crucial Game 6 in Portland. The Sixers ultimately came up short, but it wasn’t Erving’s fault, as he turned in an inspired performance. After scoring 37 points in Game 5, Dr. J put up 40 in Game 6. That included one of the best dunks in NBA history, which he slammed home over Walton. Philly fell short, but a star had been born and the best was yet to come.
- Julius Erving -- 1980 NBA Finals vs Los Angeles Lakers, Game 4
Erving’s performance in Game 4 of the 1980 Finals is remembered for one moment -- and it's one of the greatest moments in the history of the league. Dr. J, a certified superstar at that point in his career, had reached the NBA Finals with the Sixers for the second time in just four years.
Here’s how the magical moment unfolded: Forced to the baseline, “The Doctor” took off with the ball in one hand, drifted under the basket and laid it in from the opposite side, leaving fans and the other players stunned. Magic Johnson described the move as the greatest he’d ever seen, while some of Erving’s teammates at the time still wonder how he did it.
Erving’s reverse layup maneuver is one of the all-time great plays in the league's history, and it deserves a spot on this list all by itself. The Sixers tied the series 2-2 by winning that game, but the Lakers went on to claim the NBA title in Game 6.
- Allen Iverson -- 2001 Eastern Conference Finals vs Milwaukee Bucks, Game 7
Take a look at this list of the top 10 playoff scoring performances in Philadelphia 76ers history. Notice anything? Allen Iverson holds seven of those top 10 spots! His highest-scoring playoff game in a 76ers uniform was a 55-point night against the Hornets in 2003, but there is no other top 10 showing more significant than his Game 7 effort in the 2001 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against Milwaukee, because that performance put the 76ers into the NBA Finals.
Iverson was going for his first trip to the Finals and the Sixers’ first appearance there since winning the 1983 NBA championship.
As the 76ers MVP during that 2000-01 season, Iverson took charge of Game 7 with the season on the line at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. He had 44 points, seven assists, and six rebounds in a stunning display that included shooting 4-for-6 from 3-point range. He was unstoppable, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot, and the Sixers moved on to face the Los Angeles Lakers.
- Julius Erving -- 1982 Eastern Conference Finals vs Boston Celtics, Game 7
The Sixers held a 3-1 series lead over the Boston Celtics after four games of the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals, but Philadelphia dropped the next two games, setting up what promised to be a spectacle of a Game 7 at Boston Garden.
The Celtics and Sixers hated one another back then, as the rivalry was as fierce as ever in the 1980s. Larry Bird and the Celtics posed a constant threat to Philadelphia’s championship hopes for many years, but 1982 was the Sixers’ time to shine. They earned their well-deserved bragging rights on the strength of an inspired Game 7 performance by Julius Erving, whose 29 points, five assists, four rebounds and three blocks helped his team sink the Celtics.
Philadelphia pulled away in the fourth quarter of what is remembered today as a classic Sixers playoff game. As the clock ticked down, Boston fans chanted “Beat L.A.” -- encouraging the Sixers to topple the Lakers in the NBA Finals. It was a stunning NBA moment, as fans of a team’s No. 1 rival showed an eagerness to root for it in the next playoff round.
- Allen Iverson -- 2001 NBA Finals vs Los Angeles Lakers, Game 1
Allen Iverson’s 2000-01 MVP season was one of the greatest seasons enjoyed by any player in 76ers history. He led his team all the way to the NBA Finals with dominant performances night after night in the postseason. Those efforts set up a dazzling NBA Finals series against Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Sixers knew they were an underdog against one of the greatest teams in NBA history, so they came out swinging in the series’ opening game.
In a heated matchup against a young Kobe, Iverson's performance was nearly impeccable. He effortlessly sank shot after shot, finding nothing but net. The Lakers could not counter his impressive step-back jumpers and swift moves in transition, allowing Iverson to assert his dominance throughout the game.
Philly won and took a 1-0 series lead, but the Sixers struggled to find an answer for Shaq, who had 44 points for the Lakers in their Game 1 loss. Kobe and Shaq’s team would go on to win the series, but AI’s opening Finals act remains one of the greatest games ever played by any Sixers player.
- Moses Malone -- 1983 NBA Finals vs Los Angeles Lakers, Game 4
Moses Malone’s clutch performance in Game 4 of the 1983 NBA Finals was so remarkable that it’s tough to consider any other player for the top spot in a list of the greatest playoff performances in Philadelphia 76ers history.
Malone put up some of the best-ever 76ers playoff stats on May 31, 1983 -- totaling 24 points and a stunning 23 rebounds, while outplaying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most of the game.
Julius Erving had led the Sixers through multiple postseason runs, but he finally got some help before the 1982-83 season when Philadelphia traded for Malone. The veteran big man emerged as a key to the 1983 NBA championship, but it wasn’t just Dr. J and Moses. The 1982-83 Sixers roster also featured Mo Cheeks, Bobby Jones, and Andrew Toney off the bench.
The Sixers dominated the 1983 playoffs, going 12-1 on their way to the championship. Their lone loss was to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. They made quick work of their two other rounds with four-game sweeps.
The 1983 victory was a crowning moment for Julius Erving, Moses Malone, and the Sixers, which is exactly why Malone’s forceful performance on the biggest stage claims the top spot on this list.
Parameters for ranking
This ranking of great Sixers playoff performances takes both the circumstances surrounding each game and the individual player's exceptional effort into consideration. Some players are remembered for impressive showings throughout the game, while other individual moments, such as Dr. J's baseline move and Iguodala's game-winning free throws, made the list for being so memorable on their own.
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