|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2008||[Print without images]|
Editor's note: We're ranking the best Finals performances since the NBA-ABA merger.
Rankings: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50
What about Magic? We'll get to him later down the page.
But through five games, Kareem was the dominating force in the 1980 Finals -- that's why everyone thought the Lakers were screwed in Game 6 with him out of the lineup.
Abdul-Jabbar averaged 33.4 points in the first five games and would have had more if he hadn't gone down with an ankle injury early in the second half of Game 5.
It was Celtics versus Lakers in Boston Garden, which meant the leprechauns were supposed to lead Boston to victory. Kareem had other ideas. He dominated the clinching Game 6 with 29 points, and at one point the 38-year-old big man took a rebound and led a 2-on-1 break before dishing to Kurt Rambis for a layup.
It was quite a turnaround after he'd been held to 12 points and three boards in the 148-114 Memorial Day Massacre in Game 1. But he averaged 28.8 points over the final five games and shot 60.6 percent for the series, earning MVP honors for ending L.A.'s Gah-den curse.
Bird was the best player in what was quite possibly the best series ever. That alone deserves respect. He also came up big in the two most crucial wins, shooting 15-for-20 in a 34-point effort in Game 5, and then coming back with 20 points and 12 boards in the clinching Game 7.For the series he averaged 27.4 points and 14.0 rebounds. Though his PER was lower than that of several other players in this portion of the list, once you adjust for the high level of competition, it merits a top-25 position.
The Blazers lost in five, but don't blame the Glide. He filled the stat sheet with 26.4 points, 7.8 boards and 6.2 assists, and shot 54.3 percent on the series. Unfortunately, the Blazers lost three games at the wire and ended up succumbing in five, but that shouldn't tarnish what was an outstanding Finals debut by Drexler.
He also was huge in the Blazers' only win, scoring 33 points and making the game-winning foul shots at the end of overtime in Game 2. He nearly pulled a similar feat in Game 4 before Detroit responded with a last-second bucket.
The Lakers' implosion in 2004 was, in part, a byproduct of the Shaq-Kobe feud that simmered just below the surface, and occasionally above it, all season.
But in the Finals it appeared to affect Kobe much more than Shaq. Though he was going against one of the great defenses of all time, O'Neal shot 63.1 percent from the floor and averaged 26.6 points per game.
Alas, Kobe was off his game and the supporting cast was brutal, so the Pistons dismissed L.A. in five surprisingly easy games. Also, Shaq's record string of 21 straight Finals games with 25 or more points finally ended in the Lakers' Game 3 defeat at the Palace.
The '96 Bulls were the greatest team in history, but Jordan's Finals effort was the least impressive of his six.
Of course, this is a bit like being the least shiny of the crown jewels -- Jordan averaged 27.3 points per contest and took 11 free throws a game.
And though the series didn't give us any of the last-second Jordan heroics we saw in his other Finals games, that's partly because they weren't needed -- all but one of the games were well in hand by the final minute. Instead, our main memory of this one is Jordan running to the locker room and weeping after the clinching game in his first Finals since the death of his father.
The Dream went up against Shaq in the 1995 Finals, his second straight head-to-head Finals against an elite Hall of Famer, and once again Olajuwon got the better of it. This time his domination wasn't as thorough as it was against Patrick Ewing a year earlier, but it didn't need to be.
Once the Magic kicked away a 20-point lead at home in the opener, with Olajuwon's overtime tip-in with 0.3 left providing the winning margin, the Rockets were home free and cruised to a four-game sweep. Olajuwon averaged 32.8 points, 11.5 boards and 5.5 assists, and while Shaq got his (28 and 12), the Dream anchored a defense that held the rest of Orlando's vaunted attack in check.
It was one of the most impressive one-game performances in NBA history: Magic Johnson, a 20-year-old rookie, moved from point guard to center, scored 42 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, and led L.A. to a title-clinching Game 6 win on the road.
For his efforts, he won Finals MVP and instant adulation, but he's this low in these rankings because we're ranking the series as a whole, and his first five games weren't nearly as dominant. He did, however, make several big baskets in Game 5 while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was sidelined with a sprained ankle.
The '86 Celtics were one of the great all-time teams, and Bird topped off his MVP regular season with a strong Finals. What was impressive about this one was the completeness of it -- he averaged nearly a triple-double with 24 points, 9.7 boards and 9.5 assists, and he went 31-of-33 from the stripe as Boston topped the Rockets in six games.Bird's effort included a Game 3 triple-double in a loss, and he hit the go-ahead 3-pointer late in Game 4 in Houston. In the Game 6 clincher, he had 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists -- by halftime. He finished with another triple-double as Boston won in a rout.
The Doctor had a big offensive series against the Blazers, and perhaps it would have turned out differently if his teammates had been able to get him the ball at the end of Game 6.
In his first Finals after coming over from the ABA, Erving got loose for 30.3 points per game and shot 54.3 percent on the series. Included in the effort was a 33-point outburst in Game 1 and a 37-point night as the Sixers fell just short in the pivotal Game 5.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.
Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference.com contributed research to this list.