Best NBA Finals performances
Page 2 staff

The NBA Finals won't begin until next week, but Page 2 is already reminiscing about the best performances in pro basketball's championship round.

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan saved his best performance for his last trip to the Finals.
Check out our list of the top 10 individual performances in an NBA Finals series, and then read how Page 2 readers ranked their choices. And be sure to vote in the poll to pick the best effort in the Finals.

And, people, we've got to tell you that this list wasn't easy. We're fully aware that Bird, Cousy, Russell, Jabbar and Havlicek failed to crack our top 10.

1. Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls, 1998)
Which of Jordan's six Finals MVP performances (1991, '92, '93, '96, '97, '98) was his best? It's a tough call, but we're going to narrow it to one choice and go with his last, the 1998 Finals against the Jazz, because of its spectacular finish. With the Bulls down by three to Utah with 40 seconds remaining in Game 6, Jordan scored on a layup, stripped the ball from Karl Malone on the other end, and then left Bryon Russell looking for his socks while hit the winning 17-foot jumper with 5.2 seconds left. "The moment started to come," Jordan said of his last-second heroics. "And once you get the moment, you see the court and you see what the defense wants to do. I saw that moment."

2. Elgin Baylor (L.A. Lakers, 1962)
Baylor was a scoring machine against the Boston Celtics, scoring 284 points in the seven-game final, a record that still stands. Baylor's lowest point total of the seven contests came in the sixth game, when he scored only 34 points in the Lakers' 119-105 loss. Even though he poured in 41 points in the seventh game at Boston, the Lakers lost a heartbreaker in overtime 110-107. Baylor also set a Finals record by scoring 61 points in Game 5.

Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson was named Finals MVP three times, but he made his biggest impact as a rookie in 1980.
3. Magic Johnson (L.A. Lakers, 1980)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated the first five games of the series, averaging 33.4 points per game. But Johnson, a 20-year-old rookie, was named series MVP (the first rookie to receive the honor) largely because of his spectacular performance filling for the injured Jabbar in Game 6, scoring 42 points, pulling down 15 rebounds, and adding seven assists. Johnson played all five positions and scored nine points in the last five minutes to help put the series away. "I had 42 points as a rookie in the biggest game. That's all right!" Johnson said later. "That's still today probably my greatest game in the NBA."

4. Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia 76ers, 1967)
Without Wilt, would the 76ers of 1966-67 have been one of the best teams in NBA history, winning 68 regular-season games and, ultimately, the title? No way. Chamberlain was at the top of his game in the Finals against the overmatched Warriors, pulling down eight rebounds and blocking six shots in the fourth quarter of the tightly contested sixth game. In six games, Chamberlain pulled down 171 rebounds, an average of 28.5 per game.

Shaquille O'Neal
Shaq was simply unstoppable in the 2000 Finals against the Pacers.
5. Shaquille O'Neal (Los Angeles Lakers, 2000)
Shaq averaged 38 points and 16.7 rebounds during the Finals against the Pacers, which the Lakers won in six games. He became only the third player in NBA history (Jordan and Reed were the others) to be named All-Star Game MVP, regular-season MVP, and Finals MVP.

6. Bill Walton (Portland Trail Blazers, 1977)
The Blazers fell behind the 76ers two games to none in the Finals, then roared back to win four straight and their first NBA title, with Walton named the series MVP. His all-around performance in tightly-contested Game 6 was one of the best in Finals history: Walton had 20 points, 23 rebounds, eight blocks, and seven assists, and in the series blocked 22 shots and shot 62 percent from the field. Walton didn't do it alone as Curry Kirkpatrick wrote in Sports Illustrated, "Whenever Bill Walton rolled his arms over his head in those strange, jerky circles, all of Multnomah County came to his aid" - but he was the straw that stirred.

7. Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets, 1995)
Olajuwon, who was named the series MVP for the second year in a row, dominated as the Rockets swept the Orlando Magic in the Finals, scoring 31 in Game 1, 34 in Game 2, 31 in Game 3, and 35 in Game 4. With three-tenths of a second remaining in overtime in Game 1, Olajuwon tipped in a Clyde Drexler miss to send the Rockets on their way. In four games, Olajuwon averaged 32.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists, and won the battle of the big men against Shaquille O'Neal. "What he did is hard to believe," said Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

8. George Mikan (Minneapolis Lakers, 1950)
The Lakers won their second straight NBA championship, defeating the Syracuse Nationals four games to two. Mikan, who had averaged 30.3 points during 10 playoff games in 1948-49, continued to shine in the postseason. The NBA's first superstar scored 37 of the Lakers 68 points in Game 1 (Lakers won 68-66), and took over in the sixth and final game, scoring 40 points as the Lakers won 110-95.

Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Frazier
Walt Frazier, right, starred in the 1970 Finals, while Wilt Chamberlain did his best work for Philly in 1967.
9. Walt Frazier (New York Knicks, 1970)
Yeah, we know - Willis Reed, yada yada yada. The injured Reed's contributions might have been the inspiration, but without Clyde, the Knicks wouldn't have meshed. Frazier dished 73 assists in the seven-game set against the Lakers, and was simply awesome in Game 7, scoring 36 points and adding 19 assists, meaning he had a direct hand in 74 points in the Knicks' 113-99 win. To top it off, he also had seven rebounds and five steals. As Reed told Sport magazine, "It's Clyde's ball. He just lets us play with it once in a while."

10. Joe Fulks (Philadelphia Warriors, 1947)
Fulks led the BAA (the forerunner of the NBA) in scoring during the regular season, averaging 23.2 ppg. The 6-foot-5 forward led the Warriors as they defeated the Chicago Stags, four games to one, in the Finals. He averaged 26.2 during the Finals, including 37 points in Game 1 and 34 points in the fifth and final game of the series.

Also receiving votes:

  • Michael Jordan, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997 (Chicago)

  • Rick Barry, 1975 (Golden State)

  • Willis Reed, 1970 (New York)

  • Larry Bird, 1984 (Boston)

  • Bill Russell, 1959, 1961, 1962 (Boston)

  • John Havlicek, 1974 (Boston)

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1971 (Milwaukee), 1980 (L.A.)

  • Jerry West, 1969 (L.A.)

  • Allen Iverson, 2001 (Philadelphia)


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