Kobe Bryant put on a show for the ages last night. Kobe dropped 39 points on 16-of-30 from the field on a Spurs defense that features two (Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen) 1st team All-NBA defenders. Bryant’s performance was an instant classic but it doesn’t make my list of the 5 greatest playoff peformances of all-time.
# 1. LeBron James scores a career high 48 points and 29 of Cleveland’s last 30 in handing the Detroit Pistons a double OT loss.
The Detroit Pistons had a 7 point lead with 3:15 left in regulation but LeBron James willed his team to victory.
LeBron was the only Cavs player to make a field goal in the last 17:48 and the only one to score in the final 12:49.
The King’s performance raised a previously set barometer of being ‘in the zone’. That barometer belonged to Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
After that game, it was time to make room for the King.
# 2. May 31st, 2007 and May 16, 1980 may have marked the coming of two of the greatest players in the history of the NBA.
In Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals Magic Johnson stepped in for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the Lakers starting center.
Prior to the game, the then 20 year old rookie boarded the plane and confidently declared “never fear, E.J. is here.”
Magic scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals.
Jamal Wilkes scored 37 and had 25 in the second half.
Magic was named NBA Finals MVP in winning the first of what would be 5 NBA championships and the stage was set for the greatest point guard off all time to introduce ‘Showtime’ basketball.
# 3. Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals saw Isiah Thomas fight through a severly sprained ankle and hobble his way to 43 points, 8 assists, and 6 steals.
Thomas came down on Michael Cooper’s foot with four minutes remaining in the third quarter but returned only 35 seconds later. He would go on to score an NBA Finals record 25 points in the 4th quarter after hitting 11-of-13 shots.
The Lakers would pull out the win and the NBA Championship.
For his efforts Isiah received a jammed left pinkie, a poked eye, a scratched face, a badly swollen right ankle, and a permanent place amongst the NBA greats.
# 4. “I think he’s God disguised as Michael Jordan,” marveled Larry Bird in the Boston Celtics locker room after Game 2 of the First Round of the 1986 NBA Playoffs.
MJ scored a playoff record 63 points against the storied Boston Celtics that night.
Jordan made 22-of-41 shots from the field and 19-of-21 free throw attempts.
“Everyone knew Michael was an excellent player,” said the Celtics’ Danny Ainge, “but I think that was the first time everyone realized how great he was.”
# 5. Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals was probably the most heroic peformance of the greatest player of all-time’s career.
Michael Jordan fought through a severe intestinal virus to score 38 points on 13-of-27 shooting in 44 minutes of action.
With the series tied 2-2 and the Bulls trailing 85-84 with 46 seconds left in regulation Jordan led the Bulls to a series shifting victory.
MJ scored 15 points in the final quarter and nailed a three pointer in the final seconds to give the Bulls an 88-85 lead en route to his fifth NBA championship.
“That was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Jordan said after the game. “I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game. If we had lost, I would have been devastated.”
“Because of the circumstances, with this being a critical game in the Finals, I’d have to say this is the greatest game I’ve seen Michael play,” said Phil Jackson. “Just standing up was nauseating for him and caused him dizzy spells. This was a heroic effort, one to add to the collection of efforts that make up his legend.”
Said Pippen: “He’s the greatest, and everyone saw why tonight.”