As exciting as the NBA regular season is, the playoffs are ultimately a different animal altogether. With the best NBA teams competing for the coveted NBA championship, the stakes are higher than ever. However, with the pressure of the playoffs, there’s no doubt that closeout games are a huge contributor to that. But despite the pressure, some NBA stars have used it as a platform for greatness. Let’s rank the 10 best performances in NBA Playoff series clinchers.
10. Isiah Thomas: Game 4, 1989 Eastern Conference Semifinals
Stats: 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists, 50% FG
The Pistons were on the verge of sweeping away the Bucks after taking a commanding 3-0 lead. Furthermore, the Bucks only had to make do with seven active players for various reasons. But while trying to stay alive, the Bucks gave the Pistons a run for their money in Game 4. Fortunately, Thomas’ triple-double was enough to climb out of a 21-point deficit to escape with a two-point series-clinching victory.
9. Devin Booker: Game 5, 2023 First Round
Stats: 47 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists, 70% FG
The Clippers were one of the championship favorites in the 2022-23 season. But despite the tough clash, the 2021 NBA Finalists only needed five games, thanks to Devin Booker, to put away the injury-riddled Clippers led by Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook. In Game 5, Booker’s tally of 47 points was his playoff career high to go alongside 10 assists. He also shot 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.
8. LeBron James: Game 5, 2012 NBA Finals
Stats: 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists, 47% FG
After a disappointing first NBA Finals appearance for The Big Three, LeBron James was all business in the Finals series a year later. After taking a commanding 3-1 series lead, James and the Heat took care of business in Game 5 to win his first-ever NBA championship at the expense of Kevin Durant and the Thunder. The Heat benefitted from James’ triple-double effort to take a dominant 121-106 victory.
7. Kobe Bryant: Game 4, 2001 Western Conference Semifinals
Stats: 48 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 assists, 51% FG
The playoff series between the Kings and the Lakers in 2002 was controversial at best. However, a year prior, the Lakers won convincingly. In fact, Kobe Bryant easily had his way in Game 4 of the 2001 Western Conference Semifinals, where he posted a dominant 40-point double-double performance to complete the sweep en route to their second championship of their edition of the three-peat.
6. Stephen Curry: Game 7, 2023 First Round
Stats: 50 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists, 53% FG
The Kings finally ended their long playoff drought, and they played like they weren’t only happy just to be in the postseason. In fact, they even gave the Warriors a run for their money in the first round by pushing the series to seven games. However, the defending champions leaned on Stephen Curry to ultimately keep their title defense alive. In Game 7, Curry tallied his career high in points while making seven shots from beyond the arc.
5. Kevin Durant: Game 6, 2019 First Round
Stats: 50 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists, 53% FG
Heading into the 2019 playoffs as back-to-back champions, the Warriors didn’t expect a gritty Clippers squad that pushed the series to six games. In order to secure their advancement into the second round, the Warriors had to ride on Kevin Durant’s masterful performance where he drilled six threes en route to one of this playoff masterpieces.
4. Michael Jordan: Game Six, 1998 NBA Finals
Stats: 45 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist, 43% FG
In Michael Jordan’s last game in a Bulls uniform, he went out with a bang. Jordan would go on a scoring rampage, including his iconic game-winning shot to seal the Bulls’ second three-peat of the decade at the expense of the Utah Jazz.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo: Game 6, 2021 NBA Finals
Stats: 50 points, 14 rebounds, and 2 assists, 64% FG
Despite nursing a knee injury, Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t let it bother him. Facing a hungry Suns squad, Giannis played arguably the best game of his career at a time where the Bucks needed it the most. Holding a 3-2 series lead, Giannis pieced together a master class, which went down as one of the best Finals performances of all time, becoming only the seventh NBA player in history to reach the half a century mark in a NBA Finals game. With the victory, the Bucks won their first championship in 50 years.
2. Charles Barkley: Game Three, 1994 First Round
Stats: 56 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 assists, 74% FG
Although Charles Barkley never got his NBA championship, he can still say he scored the most number of points in a playoff series clincher. En route to sweeping the Warriors in the first round, Barkley brought out his A-game in Game 3. Barkley would register a 50-10 double-double while making 75% of his shots from downtown.
1. Michael Jordan: Game 3, 1992 First Round
Stats: 56 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, 67% FG
But before Charles Barkley dropped 56 points, Michael Jordan also did the same two years prior. After two blowout games, the Heat weren’t ending their season without a fight. However, Jordan showed everyone why he was the greatest player in the NBA. Jordan would register one of his highest scoring playoff performances as the Bulls would eventually go all the way to claim their second NBA championship of the first three-peat.