From ‘The Big A’ to ‘Playoff Jimmy’: The Top 25 Performances in NBA Conference Finals History


as of this year nba conference finals happens with Boston Celtics to face Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference and denver nuggets to face Los Angeles Lakers In the West, we take a look at the most impressive outings in this era, going back to the days of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar through last year’s performance from Jimmy Butler And luka doncicWith the help of’s game score archive.

Game score, pioneered by John Hollinger, is a measure of a player’s single-game value, factoring in all elements of the box score, from scoring efficiency and playmaking to rebounding and defensive effectiveness. Although imperfect, it quickly captures a player’s baseline performance and allows us to compare conference Finals games to those from 1978—the first year the NBA tracked individual turnovers.

Throughout 45 years of the Conference Finals, we’ve highlighted the top 25 individual performances, 20 of which came as victories for their team. How did each player succeed and what did their heroics mean for the series and the NBA Playoffs? Let’s take a closer look at the top Conference Finals performances highlighted by the four Lebron James and three from Michael Jordan. – Kevin Pelton

1. Charles Barkley, Phoenix Suns , Game Score: 47.1

1993 West Finals: Game 5 vs. Seattle SuperSonics

With Phoenix and Seattle tied at two games apiece, the Suns – who won a league-leading 62 games and featured the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in Barkley – came home for a decisive Game 5. What did Barclay do? He put up a 43-point, 15-rebound, 10-assist triple-double in only 47 minutes to lead Phoenix to a 120–114 win, one of two big games Barkley had to single-handedly take the Suns to the Finals Hall of Fame. career. It’s hard to be more efficient than Barkley in this game, going 16-for-22 from the field and 11-for-11 from the foul line while committing only three turnovers and sitting out only one minute all night. — Tim Bontemps

2011 West Finals: Game 1 Vs. oklahoma city thunder

No one has scored more points at improved efficiency in a playoff game than this masterpiece by Dirk Nowitzki during the Mavericks’ 2011 title run. He began the Western Conference Finals scoring 48 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the floor and 24-of-24 from the line. Former Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, “I thought we defended him as close as we could — obviously, pretty close.” After defeating the Lakers in the second round, the Movs had nine days off. Nowitzki used that time to improve his game, participating in several late-night shooting sessions with his longtime mentor, Holger Geschwinder. Nowitzki was so sharp that he made Kevin Durant’s first 40-point playoff performance a mere footnote, setting the tone as Dallas dismissed Oklahoma City in five games. — Tim McMahon

3. Jimmy Butler, Heat | 45.9

2022 Pre Finals:game 6 o’clock Boston Celtics

With the season over and the Heat trailing 3–2 in the series, Butler turned in one of the best performances of his career. Butler finished with a career playoff high of 47 points (only to be surpassed this postseason with 56 in Game 4 of the Heat’s first-round series against the Bucks) and posted nine assists, eight rebounds and four steals in Boston. Forced Game 7. , Andrew Lopez

1992 West Finals:Game 2 Vs. Utah Jazz

because of partner clyde drexler (runner-up in MVP voting) and the other star point guards in the West (including opposing No. John Stockton), Porter was often overlooked, but not on this night. Porter was nearly perfect from the field, scoring 41 points on 12 of 14 shots (with four 3s, as many as the Jazz made) and 13 of 14 free throws. that’s left Fewest shot attempts ever in a 40-point playoff game in any round. Porter added seven assists and six boards with only one turnover as the Blazers cruised at home. — Pelton

5. Charles Barkley, Son | 45.0

1993 West Finals: Game 7 vs. Seattle SuperSonics

With Phoenix’s season underway, Sir Charles delivered an iconic performance, putting up 44 points with 24 rebounds to lead the Suns to a 123–110 victory over the SuperSonics. What stood out about this game was the sheer number of free throws made: 100 in total, including 64 by the Suns. Phoenix had a 57–28 lead in freebies made in the game, in which Barkley went 19-for-22 to make an NBA Finals appearance alongside Michael Jordan and the eventual champion. Chicago Bulls, — Bontemps

2009 East Finals: Game 1 Vs. Orlando Magic

This is LeBron’s best playoff performance according to game score. James’ 49 points were a playoff career high (not surpassed until 2018) and his third-highest total in a conference finals game. LeBron only needed 30 shots and 10 free throws, shooting 67% from the field and adding eight assists along with three steals and two blocks. Yet Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy told his players at halftime, “We’re all witnesses,” referring to James’ Nike campaign, as the Magic pulled out a one-point victory on a Rashard Lewis 3-pointer. It was emblematic of a series Orlando won 4–2 despite LeBron’s heroics. — Pelton

7. Jimmy Butler, Heat | 43.2

2022 Pre Finals: Game 1 vs. Celtics

In Game 1 of the 2022 Conference Finals, Butler led the Heat to a 118–107 victory that set the tone for the rest of the series. Butler had 41 points and nine rebounds, was 17-of-18 from the free throw line and also picked up four blocks and three steals. At the time, it was Butler’s second highest scoring playoff game. Now it is his fifth. — Lopez

8. Michael Jordan, Bulls | 42.8

1989 East Final: Sports 3 Vs. detroit pistons

Despite trailing by 14 with only seven minutes played, Jordan led the Bulls to a 99–97 victory over the Detroit Pistons with an epic performance down the stretch, finishing with 46 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals. . The “Bad Boy” Pistons got the better of Jordan by the end of the series, but this performance highlighted just how much of a problem he was for Detroit as well. Jordan scored 10 of 17 fourth-quarter points during a three-minute stretch down the stretch, including two defenders dennis rodmanTo hit the game winner. — Jamal Collier

9. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks | 42.3

2006 West Finals: Game 5 vs. Suns

Nowitzki’s scoring flurry in the fourth quarter allowed him to finish with the only 50-point playoff performance of his career and put the Mavericks one win away from advancing to the franchise’s first NBA Finals. Nowitzki led the Suns to a 22–20 margin in the final quarter, which included a run in which he scored 15 straight points for the Mavs. Phoenix forward Shawn Marion, an outstanding defender who helped Dallas win the title five years later, was helpless against the sweet-shooting 7-footer. This gem came shortly after Dirk Dudt as he had only 11 points on 3 of 11 shooting in the Mavs’ Game 4 loss. “Last game, I never really found my rhythm,” said Nowitzki, who was 14-of-26 from the floor and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Game 5 win. “Today, I just wanted to be aggressive no matter what.” –McMahon

10. Michael Jordan, Bulls | 41.3

1993 East Final: Game 4 Vs. new York Knicks

The Bulls’ first three-peat was in jeopardy when Chicago dropped the first two games of the Conference Finals against the Knicks on the road and Michael Jordan struggled to start the series. New York’s incredible defense held Jordan to 32.5% shooting in the first three games, but Jordan responded with what turned out to be another clutch playoff performance of his: 54 points on 18-of-30 (60%). The best defense in the NBA to tie the shooting series 2-2 against Game 1. Collier

11. james harden2015 Houston Rockets (41.0 game score)
12. Rajon Rondo, 2012 Celtics (41.0)
13. chris paul2021 Sun (39.6)
14. LeBron James, 2018 Cavaliers (38.8)
15. James Harden, 2015 Rockets (38.7)
16. Hakeem Olajuwon1994 Rockets (38.6)
17. LeBron James, 2007 Cavaliers (38.1)
18. Russell Westbrook2014 Thunder (38.0)
19. Luka Doncic, 2022 Mavericks (37.5)
20. Paul George2021 LA Clippers (37.3)
21. LeBron James, 2020 Lakers (37.3)
22. Tim Duncan, 2003 San Antonio Spurs (37.1)
23. Michael Jordan, 1998 Bulls (37.1)
24. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1980 Lakers (36.8)
25. Stephen Curry2015 Golden State Warriors (36.6)

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