Top 25 performances in NBA Conference Finals history

ESPN staffMay 16, 2023, 9:45 a.m. ET7 minute read

Charles Barkley holds the top spot for best Conference Finals performances, while Michael Jordan makes the list three times.Rob Schumacher/The Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK

As this year’s NBA Conference Finals unfold with the Boston Celtics facing the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference and the Denver Nuggets facing the Los Angeles Lakers in the West, we look back at the most impressive outings of this round. , dating back to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar days to last year’s performances from Jimmy Butler and Luka Doncic, with help from’s game score archive.

Game scoring, pioneered by John Hollinger, is a measure of a player’s value in a single game, taking into account all elements of box scoring, from scoring and playing efficiency to rebounding and defensive impact. While not perfect, it quickly captures a player’s baseline performance and allows us to compare Conference Finals games to 1978 – the first year the NBA tracked individual turnovers.

In those 45 years of conference finals, we’ve highlighted the top 25 individual performances, 20 of which were won by their team. How did each player succeed and what did their heroism mean for the series and the NBA playoffs as a whole? Let’s take a closer look at the best performances in the Conference Finals, highlighted by four from LeBron James and three from Michael Jordan. –Kevin Pelton

1.Charles Barkley, Phoenix Suns | Match Rating: 47.1

1993 West Finals: Game 5 against Seattle SuperSonics

With Phoenix and Seattle tied at two games apiece, the Suns — who have won a league-leading 62 games and introduced the NBA’s most valuable player in Barkley — came home for a crucial Game 5. Qu did Barkley do? He had just a triple-double of 43 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in 47 minutes to power Phoenix to a 120-114 win, one of two massive games Barkley had to lead the Suns to. the only Finals appearance of his Hall of Fame career. It’s hard to be more efficient than Barkley was in this game, going 16v22 from the field and a perfect 11v11 from the foul line while committing just three turnovers and sitting just one. minute all night. — Tim Bontemps

West Final 2011: Game 1 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

No one has ever scored more on better efficiency in a playoff game than this Dirk Nowitzki masterpiece in the Mavericks’ 2011 title run. He opened the Western Conference Finals by scoring 48 points on 12 of 15 shots from the floor and 24 of 24 from the line. “I thought we defended him as close as possible – obviously, too close,” former Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. The Mavs had nine days off after sweeping the Lakers in the second round. Nowitzki used that time to hone his game, participating in several nightly shooting sessions with his longtime mentor, Holger Geschwindner. Nowitzki was so sharp he made Kevin Durant’s first 40-point playoff performance a mere footnote, setting the tone as Dallas eliminated Oklahoma City in five games. –Tim Mac Mahon

Butler scored 27 of his 41 points in the second half of the Heat’s Game 1 win over the Celtics.Megan Briggs/Getty Images

3. Jimmy Butler, Heat | 45.9

Eastern Finals 2022: Game 6 at the Boston Celtics

With the season on the line and the Heat trailing 3-2 in the series, Butler put on one of the best performances of his career. Butler finished with a playoff career-high 47 points (to surpass it this postseason with 56 in Game 4 of the Heat’s first-round series against the Bucks) and added nine assists, eight rebounds and four interceptions in Boston to force a Game 7 . — Andrew Lopez

1992 West Finals: Game 2 against Utah Jazz

Because of teammate Clyde Drexler (the MVP voting runner-up) and other West star point guards (including opposing number John Stockton), Porter was often overlooked, but not that night. Porter was nearly perfect from the field, making 12 of 14 shots (with four 3s, as many as the Jazz made) and 13 of 14 free throws to score 41 points. That remains the fewest shot attempts ever recorded in a 40-point playoff game in any round. Porter added seven assists and six boards on a single turnover as the Blazers sailed home. –Pelton

5. Charles Barkley, Suns | 45.0

1993 West Finals: Game 7 against Seattle SuperSonics

With Phoenix’s season on the line, Sir Charles delivered an iconic performance, scoring 44 points to go along with 24 rebounds to lift the Suns to a 123-110 win over the SuperSonics. What stands out from this match is the number of free throws attempted: 100 in total, including 64 by the Suns. Phoenix had a 57-28 advantage in in-game giveaways, with Barkley going 19-for-22 from the boards to set up an NBA Finals showdown with Michael Jordan and the eventual champion Chicago Bulls. — Good time

LeBron James scored 49 in the opener of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals series.AP Photo/Pool, Jeff Haynes

Eastern Finals 2009: Game 1 against Orlando Magic

It remains LeBron’s best performance in the playoffs, by game score. James’ 49 points were a career-high in the playoffs (which wasn’t 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 dispensing eight assists with three steals and two blocks. Yet after Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy told his players at half-time, “We are all witnesses,” referring to James’ Nike campaign, the Magic rallied to win by one on a fire Rashard Lewis 3-pointer. It was emblematic of a series Orlando won 4-2 despite LeBron’s heroics throughout. –Pelton

7. Jimmy Butler, Heat | 43.2

Eastern Finals 2022: Game 1 against the Celtics

In Game 1 of the 2022 Conference Finals, Butler carried the Heat to a 118-107 win 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. It is now his fifth. — Lopez

8. Michael Jordan, Bulls | 42.8

Eastern Final 1989: Game 3 against Detroit Pistons

Despite trailing 14 with just over seven minutes to play, Jordan led the Bulls to a 99-97 win over the Detroit Pistons with an epic performance in the streak, finishing with 46 points, seven rebounds, five assists. and five interceptions. The “Bad Boy” Pistons got the better of Jordan at the end of the series, but that performance highlighted what a problem he was to keep, even for Detroit. Jordan scored 10 of 17 fourth-quarter points during a three-minute stretch on the stretch, flying over two defenders, including Dennis Rodman, to hit the game-winner. –Jamal Necklace

Nowitzki scored 50 points to lift the Mavericks to a 117-101 victory and a 3-2 lead over the Suns in the Western Conference Finals.Photo by John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

9. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks | 42.3

West Finals 2006: Game 5 against the Suns

Nowitzki’s flurry of goals 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 edged the Suns by a 22-20 margin in the final quarter, which featured a run in which he posted 15 straight points for the Mavs. Phoenix forward Shawn Marion, an outstanding defenseman who helped Dallas win the title five years later, was helpless against the soft-shot 7-footer. This gem came immediately after a miss from Dirk as he had just 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting in the Mavs’ Game 4 loss. “Last game, I never really found my groove,” said Nowitzki, who was 14 of 26 from the floor and also grabbed 12 rebounds in the Game 5 win. be aggressive no matter what.” — Mac Mahon

10. Michael Jordan, Bulls | 41.3

Eastern Finals 1993: Game 4 against the New York Knicks

The Bulls’ first three-peat was in jeopardy after Chicago dropped the first two games of the Conference Finals on the road against the Knicks and Michael Jordan struggled to start the series. New York’s relentless defense had kept Jordan to 32.5% shooting in the first three games, but Jordan responded with what became one of his most underrated performances in the playoffs: a 54 game. points on 18 of 30 (60%) shooting against the NBA’s best defense to tie the series at 2-2. — Necklace

11. James Harden, Houston Rockets 2015 (score 41.0)
12. Rajon Rondo, Celtics 2012 (41.0)
13. Chris Paul, Suns 2021 (39.6)
14. LeBron James, 2018 Cavaliers (38.8)
15. James Harden, Rockets 2015 (38.7)
16. Hakeem Olajuwon, 1994 Rockets (38.6)
17. LeBron James, 2007 Cavaliers (38.1)
18. Russell Westbrook, 2014 Thunder (38.0)
19. Luka Doncic, 2022 Mavericks (37.5)
20. Paul George, 2021 LA Clippers (37.3)
21. LeBron James, Lakers 2020 (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 Curry, 2015 Golden State Warriors (36.6)

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