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Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Updated: May 22, 9:58 PM ET
Greatest Finals performances: 31-40

By John Hollinger
ESPN.com

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

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.


Nowitzki's overall numbers don't rank as highly as some of the others on this list, but he gets extra points for timing. Dirk made the winning shot in Game 2 and another last-second field goal to clinch Game 4 -- one a left-handed layup, one a right-handed layup -- as the Mavs pulled off a pair of surprise comebacks to even the series. The Game 4 win, with Nowitzki battling the flu and a torn finger tendon, was particular notable -- as was the ensuing "snifflegate" with Miami's Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

But Dirk wasn't done. Another Mavs comeback in Game 5 featured a Nowitzki dunk as the go-ahead bucket, moments after he'd found Jason Terry for a game-tying triple. Cementing his rep as one of the game's great shooters, Nowitzki went 47-of-48 from the line for the series to lead Dallas to its first-ever championship.


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.


Few can forget the sight of Thomas doggedly hopping up and down the court in the third quarter of Game 6, when he finished off a 25-point outburst with a driving lay-up despite a sprained ankle. And not enough people remember the crazy four-point play he banked in a moment earlier. The Pistons nearly upset L.A. for the crown.

Alas, a final-minute lead evaporated in Game 6, and a gimpy Thomas couldn't quite muster enough in the seventh game and had to check out in the third quarter. But his series as a whole was still a strong one -- 19.7 points, 9.0 assists, 2.9 steals -- and he would get his ring a year later.


What made this edition of the Spurs so dangerous is that both the Admiral and Tim Duncan were near the peak of their powers. Once Robinson's back loosened up, San Antonio shook off a 6-8 start to finish the season on a 46-7 tear.

He was a lethal second weapon against the Knicks in the Finals, too, with 18.6 points, 11.8 boards and 3.0 blocks, and he piled up 48 free-throw attempts in five games on his way to his first championship. In Game 4, Duncan (18) and Robinson (17) combined to outrebound the entire Knicks team.


No losing player has won the Finals MVP since the merger, but Billups probably should have. Detroit narrowly lost in seven games, and Billups was the most effective player in the series, averaging 20.4 points and 6.3 assists per game, hitting 40-of-44 from the line and grossly outplaying San Antonio counterpart Tony Parker.

Billups was so effective that San Antonio switched defensive ace Bruce Bowen onto him at the end of Game 7, resulting in one of his few cold stretches -- a badly timed one that allowed the Spurs to claim the series.


This was an absolute dog of a series, with Cleveland overmatched against the mighty Spurs, but let's give Parker credit for shooting better than ever. He scored 24.5 points per game and shot 56.8 percent from the floor by continually punishing the Cavs for conceding long jumpers to him in order to stop his drives.

That's been the game plan against Parker his whole career, but for four games that June his shooting stroke gave him the perfect antidote.


As with Parker in 2007, Dumars' outstanding play is diminished a bit by the mismatch that took place on the court. Had he posted his 27.2 points and 6.0 assists per game against Magic Johnson and Byron Scott, we could put him much further up the list.

As it was, he did most of it against the likes of Tony Campbell and Jeff Lamp. Dumars did, however, score 22 points as the Pistons smoked the Lakers in Game 1 with Magic still in the lineup, and he made a game-saving block at the end of Game 3.


Rankings: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.

Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference.com contributed research to this list.