The 10 Best Individual Performances In NBA History
Top 10 Individual Performances in NBA History
Whenever an NBA fan, casual or dedicated, turns on their TV to watch a game, they are tuning in in hope of seeing something spectacular. Even those that watch hundreds of game throughout the season are still hoping that something historical will happen. 99 times out of 100, though, that remarkable performance doesn’t happen.
However, it’s that one time out of those 100 games that we all remember the best. We remember when a player plays out of his mind and completely asserts his dominance on the contest. Those are the moments, particularly for casual fans, that keep people coming back for more.
When it comes to terrific individual performances, most people want to talk about Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game as the greatest of all-time. Obviously he scored more points in a single game than any other player in history has, a record that has stood for over 50 years. Does that really make it the best, though?
The final score of the game ended up at 169-147 in favor of Chamberlain’s Philadelphia Warriors. People recall the game simply as Wilt’s 100-point game, but fail to consider the fact that Wilt played incredibly selfishly, taking 63 shots and that Philadelphia just ran up the score so that Chamberlain could get his historical 100 points. It’s impressive, but it also feels like a better example of “hot-dogging” and poor-spirited coaching than an overall incredible performance.
That being said, Wilt’s 100-point game should probably be included as one of the top 10 individual performances in the history of the league, but we’re not going to do that. We are going to look at 10 other individual performances that were complete games, not just the result of a showboating stat-hog. In fact, you might find some of these performances to be even more impressive.
10. Stephen Curry - 54 Points in Madison Square Garden
You could possibly call this getting caught up in the moment because it happened in February of this year and that may partially be the case, but that shouldn’t discredit how great Stephen Curry performed in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 27, 2013. He finished the game with 54 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals while shooting 18-28 from the field and shooting an astounding 11-13 from long range.
This game wasn’t even the highest scoring in the history of MSG, but it was the most points accounted for by a single player. Including his assists, Curry accounted for 70 points in that game and had some defense to go along with it. It may not even be close to the top of this list, but it definitely deserves mentioning.
9. Elgin Baylor - 61 Points, 22 Rebounds in Game Five of 1962 Finals
When it comes to stepping on the big stage, nobody has ever done it the way Elgin Baylor did in game five of the 1962 NBA Finals for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Boston Celtics. Needing a win to stay alive Baylor put up 61 points, a then record for the playoffs and still the Finals record, and 22 boards, leading the Lakers to the game five win.
You could point to the fact that he was just 22-46 from the field if you wanted to detract from his performance, but considering the moment and how enormous his performance was for Los Angeles, it’s hard to argue the fact that this game from Baylor is one of the best in the league’s history.
8. Reggie Miller - Eight Points in Nine Seconds
The greatest performance of Reggie Miller’s career didn’t take an entire 48-minute game, but rather took just nine second in game one of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Knicks. Miller had developed a personal rivalry with the Knicks and, with the Knicks ahead 105-99 with just 16.4 seconds left, the crowd was letting Miller hear it.
That didn’t stop him from hitting a three. It also didn’t stop him from stealing the ensuing inbound-pass and stepping back to hit another three. It also didn’t stop him from drilling two clutch free throws with 7.5 seconds left in the game. He scored an amazing eight points in nine seconds to give the Indiana Pacers the 107-105 win. It’s hard to argue how amazing that was, especially in that moment.
7. Bill Russell - 30 Points, 40 Rebounds in Game Seven of 1962 Finals
Though no one has ever scored as many points in a Finals game as Baylor, Bill Russell may have submitted an even more impressive performance in game seven of the same series that Baylor has his 61-point outburst. With the series on the line, the legendary Russell came to dominate for the Celtics.
Russell finished the game with just 30 points, but he grabbed an absurd 40 rebounds to go along with his scoring. The points may not be terribly impressive, but the overall game is fantastic, especially considering that it helped lead the Celtics to victory in game seven for another title.
6. Michael Jordan - 63 Points in 1986 Playoff Game
Michael Jordan is almost unanimously regarded as the greatest basketball player of all-time, so it’s fitting that he would have at least one of the greatest individual performances in history. In game two of the Chicago Bulls’ first round series in 1986, the Bulls went to double-overtime before falling to the powerhouse Boston Celtics.
Though they lost, Jordan was the only reason that they were even in the game, scoring a playoff-record 63 points on 22-41 shooting and with no threes attempted or made. He also added five boards, six assists, three steals and two blocks. It’s hard to argue that this is one of the best performances ever from the greatest player ever.
5. David Robinson - 71 Points in Final Regular Season Game
Coming into the last game of the 1994 regular season, David Robinson trailed Shaquille O’Neal by 65 points for the NBA’s scoring leader. That had to have seemed like an insurmountable gap for Robinson to make up. As it turns out though, it wasn’t a big enough lead to stop Robinson.
Robinson exploded for 71 points on 26-41 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds just for good measure. It wasn’t a playoff game by any means, but there were big benefits from winning the game and Robinson finished the season with six more points than Shaq on the year. Not too shabby.
4. Shaquille O'Neal - Near Quadruple-Double in 2001 Finals
Shaquille O’Neal, when he was at his best, was one of the best centers to ever play the game of basketball. When he showed up to the court focused, he was near unstoppable. This was never more evident than in game two of the 2001 NBA Finals when O’Neal led the Lakers to victory.
Shaq nearly notched the first quadruple-double in the history of the NBA Playoffs, scoring 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and eight blocks on 12-19 shooting. Just for good measure, Shaq also notched a single steal in the game. The Big Diesel was undoubtedly rolling that night and he submitted a beauty of a game.
3. Kobe Bryant - 81 Points in 2006 Regular Season
We may be calling Wilt’s 100 points showboating, but the same can’t be said for Kobe Bryant when he scored 81 points for the Lakers in the 2006 regular season. Kobe finished the game with those points on 28-46 shooting and 7-13 three-point shooting, as well as six rebounds, three steals, two assists and one block.
The reason Kobe’s 81 points is so much different than Chamberlain’s is the simple fact that he was scoring because it was what his team needed, not trying to get to 100 points. He was playing with guys like Smush Parker, which pretty much says it all. If he hadn’t scored 81 that night, the Lakers likely would have lost, which is why what he did was so great.
2. Michael Jordan - The Flu Game
Jordan’s highest ranked performance on this list is more based on circumstance than the actual numbers. Sure, the numbers were fantastic—Jordan finished the game 38 points on 13-27 shooting and 2-5 three-point shooting in addition to seven rebounds, five assists, five steals and three blocks.
However, it was the fact that it was game five of the 1997 NBA Finals and the fact that Jordan had the flu (or food poisoning as recent reports have said) and still was able to carry the Bulls to victory. Arguably the greatest competitor in all of sports proved why he deserved that title in the game and he didn’t disappoint.
1. David Robinson - Quadruple-Double in 1994 Regular Season
There could definitely be an argument made for Kobe’s 81 points or Jordan’s Flu Game taking the number one spot on this list, but a quadruple-double is just so impressive because of how a player has to affect the game in so many ways. Of the four quadruple-doubles in the history of the league, David Robinson had the most impressive of them all.
In a 1994 regular season game, Robinson wreaked havoc by scoring 34 points on 12-30 shooting and notching 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 blocks. He also added two steals because his incredible quadruple-double wasn’t impressive enough by itself. There’s other performances that could take the top place on this list, but my vote definitely goes to Robinson.