Editor's note: We're ranking the best Finals performances since the NBA-ABA merger.
With the NBA reeling from missing part of the season due to a lockout, and with two defensive-minded teams squaring off in the Finals, a lot of fans gave this one a pass.
Those who stuck around witnessed a dominating effort on both ends by Duncan, who averaged 27.4 points and 14.0 rebounds, shot 53 percent from the floor and even went 35-for-44 from the line. Included in Duncan's tally were 33 and 16 in the opener and a run in the second half of the clinching Game 5 when he scored 14 of San Antonio's 15 points.
Meanwhile, he keyed one of the best defensive efforts in Finals history -- New York didn't clear 90 points the entire series and mustered only 67 in a suffocating Game 2 Spurs win.
With Duncan leading the way, San Antonio set an NBA record by winning 12 straight playoff games, and his series PER of 30.7 is the seventh-best since the merger. He also is one of only four players -- Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade are the others -- to have two or more Finals series with a 30-plus PER.
James Worthy won the '88 Finals MVP award because people were sick of voting for Magic and Worthy had a monstrous Game 7 or maybe it was because they were so freaked out by Magic's pregame smooches with Isiah Thomas.
Nonetheless, Johnson was again at his best in L.A.'s seven-game white-knuckler against Detroit. In fact, I nominate his effort as the best non-MVP performance in a Finals.
It's a testament to how good he was that 21.1 points and 13.0 assists could be taken for granted, especially when he battled through the flu to score 23 in the must-win Game 2 after Detroit won the opener at the Forum. Magic also shot 55 percent from the floor against the Pistons' vaunted D and had a whopping 67.6 true shooting percentage.
In doing so, he helped the Lakers become the first team in two decades to repeat as champions.
The Lakers made one of the most dominating runs in playoff history in 2001, losing only once, and the Diesel again led the way. He averaged 33 points and 15.8 rebounds in a five-game dismantling of Philly, even though he was going against an all-time great defensive player, the Sixers' Dikembe Mutombo. In fact, the Sixers had acquired Mutombo specifically to play Shaq.
Lots of good that did. Even in the Lakers' one defeat, a Game 1 upset in L.A., Shaq rocked and rolled to 44 points and 20 rebounds. In Game 2, he expanded his repertoire by finishing two blocks and an assist short of a quadruple double.
For the series, he averaged 15.2 free-throw attempts per game and 6.2 offensive rebounds, highlighting the behemoth center's physical domination in the middle.
Everyone now forgets because of the ending, but before John Paxson's jumper went in to win the series, Jordan had all nine of Chicago's fourth-quarter points in Game 6. And of course, the only reason Paxson was so open was that the Suns doubled Jordan in the backcourt -- no way were they letting him shoot.
Jordan became the first player to score 40 or more points in four straight Finals games, and he exploded for 55 in Game 4 -- the only one won by the home team in the series. He averaged 41.0 for the series, along with 8.5 boards and 6.3 assists, and amazingly committed only 16 turnovers in the six games.
It's a testament to how good Jordan was that this effort ranks only fifth on his personal list.
Bryant averaged 32 points in leading the Lakers to their first title of the post-Shaq era, setting the tone with a dominant effort in the Lakers' Game 1 rout and then sticking the knife in at the end with two buckets in overtime of Game 4 to give L.A. a 3-1 series lead over the Magic. He capped it with 30 points, six rebounds, five assists and four blocks in the Game 5 clincher.
And he shared the rock, too -- Bryant averaged 7.4 assists per game for the series, helping L.A. carve up a stout Orlando defense led by Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard.
Isiah's performance in this series tends to get lost in the shuffle -- it was a repeat championship with little drama, and of course our primary Isiah memory from the Finals is his third-quarter performance in Game 6 in 1988.
But as far as an entire series goes, this was his greatest moment. He took charge in Game 1 when the Blazers threatened to upset Detroit, scoring 14 points in a 19-4 fourth-quarter run after Portland led by 10 with seven minutes left. He also exploded for a 22-point third quarter in Game 3.
For the series, Thomas averaged 27.6 points, seven assists and 5.2 rebounds, and shot 54.2 percent. Not known as a 3-point shooter, he also went 11-for-16 from downtown.
Billups led the way in one of the most shocking Finals ever, keying Detroit's surprise rout of the Lakers.
He was at his best in the opener, scoring 11 first-quarter points to put L.A. on its heels and finishing with 22 points and three steals in the 87-75 win. For the series, he averaged 21.0 points and 5.2 assists, and he played a big role in the Pistons' suffocating defensive effort that humiliated the vaunted Lakers attack in four of the five games.
The per-game averages aren't that eye popping, so to really appreciate Billups' effort, you have to check out the fine print. He scored 105 points with only 57 field goal attempts -- chew on that one for a second. Factoring in his 92.3 percent shooting from the line, his true shooting percentage was 69.5. Plus, in a series that was played at a snail's pace, his per-game stats don't nearly do justice to how well he played.
Not bad for a guy who'd been cast off by five teams before coming to Detroit.
The Mailman doesn't have a great playoff rep, but he was outstanding in the '98 Finals.
Going up against one of the all-time great defenders, Dennis Rodman, Malone racked up 25.0 points, 10.5 boards and 3.8 assists, and went off for 39 points in Game 5 in Chicago -- mostly on high-difficulty baseline jumpers over Rodman -- to postpone the Bulls' title celebration.
No, the series didn't have a happy ending for Malone, but his effort is my choice as the best by a losing player in the post-merger era. Against almost any other opponent, it likely would have produced a trophy.
Philly's attempt to go fo', fo' and fo' didn't make for riveting theater, but Malone's 1983 Finals was the high point in one of the league's most underrated careers.
Matched up against one of the all-time greats, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Malone utterly dominated. He averaged 25.8 points and 18.0 boards in the four-game sweep, out-rebounding Kareem 72-30 for the series. In fact, Moses had nearly as many offensive boards (27) as Kareem had total rebounds (30).
This performance might rank higher had the Lakers been at full strength, but James Worthy, Bob McAdoo and Norm Nixon all were on the shelf for part or all of it. Nonetheless, Malone's effort capped one of the most dominating playoff runs in league history.
Wade's Miami team came up short, but it wasn't his fault. He was one of the few players in history to post a PER above 30 in the NBA Finals, and he might have done more if he hadn't hurt his hip midway through Game 5 -- for the final six quarters of the series he was dramatically less effective.
Wade can also lament a crucial missed free throw at the end of Game 4, but otherwise he was brilliant -- averaging 26.5 points, 7.0 boards, 5.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. Included in that total was perhaps the highlight of the series -- a spectacular rejection of a dunk try by 7-foot-1 Dallas center Tyson Chandler.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.
Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference.com contributed research to this list.