With the NBA playoffs upon us, basketball fans everywhere are looking forward to the next great performance in a clutch situation. There are some great matchups this year, along with some elite scorers taking the floor. Isaiah Thomas, LeBron James, DeMar Derozan, Jimmy Butler, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and many others could be on the verge of a performance we’ll never forget. Of course, NBA history is full of players who had plenty of success.
We took a look back at NBA playoffs past, and 25 instances where players scored 50 or more points in a game — actually, it’s 27 instances, but we consolidated a few of Michael Jordan’s performances because he dropped 50 so many times. Check out some of the great, historical NBA players who had the best performances in the postseason.
25. Dominique Wilkins
Back in 1985–86, the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks faced off in a first-round series in the Eastern Conference. In Atlanta for Game 2, Dominique Wilkins absolutely went off. The Human Highlight Reel scored 50 points in just 33 minutes of action. He combined with teammate Randy Wittman to total 85 of the Hawks’ 137 points. Thanks in large part to Wilkins’ effort, which included 19-for-28 shooting and 12-for-15 from the free-throw line, the Hawks pulled away in the second half to score a 137-125 victory and take a 2-0 series lead.
24. Dirk Nowitzki
The 2005–06 Dallas Mavericks lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, but on their way there the Phoenix Suns stood in the way in the Western Conference Finals. After a Suns blowout win in Game 4, they knotted the series at 2-2 and everything was boiled down to a best-of-three.
In Game 5, however, Dirk Nowitzki took over. The Mavs led by just one point after three quarters, but they outscored Phoenix in the fourth by 15 points to take a 117-101 win. Dirk was 14-for-26 from the field, including 5-for-6 on three-pointers, 17-for-18 from the free-throw line, and 12 rebounds for good measure. He finished the game with a nice, even 50 points.
23. Bob McAdoo
Back in 1975, Bob McAdoo played for the Buffalo Braves — yes, those Buffalo Braves! They were in the playoffs against the Washington Bullets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. McAdoo didn’t want to let his team go down 3-1, so he dropped 50 points by hitting 20 field goals and 10-for-14 from the free-throw line (boxscores from that era don’t offer quite as much information). The Braves won the game, 108-102. However, the Bullets eventually won the series in seven games. They went all the way to the NBA Finals before losing to the Golden State Warriors.
22. Karl Malone
In 2000, the run of greatness for the Utah Jazz and their core of Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Jeff Hornacek came to an end. But first, in the opening round of the playoffs, the Jazz took on Gary Payton, Vin Baker, and the Seattle Sonics — and Malone had a game for the ages.
The Utah power forward played 43 minutes and shot 18-for-32 from the field — even hitting a three-pointer — to notch 50 points with 12 rebounds. That was good enough to put the Jazz up 1-0 in the series with a 104-93 win. Utah went on to close out the series in five games before being knocked out in the Western Conference Semifinals.
21. Michael Jordan
The Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers opened the 1988 playoffs against one another. In those days Michael Jordan didn’t quite have the kind of support we remember. Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were both rookies; no more than role players off the bench. In this one, those two combined for just eight points. But Jordan carried the day in a 104-93 Bulls victory, dropping 50 points in 44 minutes of play. Jordan was 19-for-35 from the field without a single three-point attempt. He also went 15-for-15 from the free-throw line. Sam Vincent scored 17 for the Bulls in that one, too.
20. Michael Jordan
Jordan appears on this list once again for scoring 50 points in a playoff game. (You can probably guess he’ll show up a few more times, as well). It was the year after he did it against Cleveland, and again they faced the Cavaliers in the first round. In Game 4, the Cavs staved off elimination by going to Chicago and scoring a 108-104 win behind strong efforts from Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, and Ron Harper. But Jordan did all he could, shooting 14-for-28 and hitting 22-for-27 from the free-throw line. Silver lining? This set up “The Shot” in Game 5.
19. Billy Cunningham
In 1970, the Philadelphia 76ers took on the Milwaukee Bucks and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. During Game 4, the Sixers did their best to tie the series at 2-2; this included a phenomenal game from future Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham. The left-handed forward knocked down 22 field goals while shooting 6-for-8 from the free-throw line, finishing with an even 50 for the game. Abdul-Jabbar finished with 33 for Milwaukee. The Bucks won the game anyway by a score of 118-111. They finished off the series in five games.
18. Wilt Chamberlain
Back in 1963–64, the Golden State Warriors were the San Francisco Warriors and the Atlanta Hawks were the St. Louis Hawks. The two franchises met up in the Western Division Finals, and it ended up being a classic, seven-game series. In Game 5, the Warriors and a young Wilt Chamberlain took a 3-2 lead with a 121-97 win. Chamberlain was excellent, putting in 22 field goals while shooting 6-for-10 from the free-throw line. Again, boxscores from that era are spotty, but Wilt is one of the greatest scorers in NBA history and he certainly got the best of Bob Petit and the Hawks in this one.
17. Vince Carter
During the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers, Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors really busted out on a big stage. In Game 3, the Raptors took a 2-1 series lead by holding the Sixers to 35.1% shooting from the field. They scored a 102-78 win, but it was Carter that really took the attention. He dropped 50 points in 45 minutes of play, shooting 19-for-29 from the field and an absurd 9-for-13 from beyond the three-point range. Carter also finished with seven assists for Toronto, who eventually lost the series in seven games.
16. Kobe Bryant
In the first round in 2006, the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant took on the Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash. Kobe had one of his classic performances in this one, dropping 50 points and helping the Lakers push the game to overtime. In the end, Nash (32 points and 13 assists) and forward Tim Thomas (21 points) pushed the Suns to a 126-118 overtime win. They eventually won the series in seven games, but the most memorable moment was Bryant’s performance. He went 20-for-35 from the field and 5-for-8 from three-point range, adding eight rebounds and five assists.
15. Sam Jones
All the way back in 1966–67, the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics played each other in a best-of-five playoff series. The Celtics led 2-1, with the opportunity to put New York away for the season with a victory at Madison Square Garden. While center Bill Russell grabbed 16 rebounds, guard Sam Jones really stole the show for the Celtics. He dropped 51 points on the Knicks, hitting 19-for-30 from the field and 13-for-17 from the free-throw line. Boston won the game, 118-109, and sent the Knicks packing.
14. Sleepy Floyd
On a Golden State Warriors roster including Joe Barry Carroll and Chris Mullin, it was point guard Eric “Sleepy” Floyd who went off in a 1987 NBA playoff game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Warriors were down 3-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals and wanted to extend their season any way possible.
Floyd played 44 minutes, shooting 18-for-26 from the floor and 2-for-3 from long range, totaling 51 points on the night. He was so good that he dished out 10 assists in the Warriors’ 129-121 victory. They ended up losing their next game and getting eliminated, but Floyd will always have his 51 points against the Lakers.
13. Ray Allen
In the first round of the 2009 playoffs, the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics played an all-time classic, seven-game series. In Game 6, with the Bulls facing a possible elimination, Chicago forced Boston to play three overtimes in a thrilling 128-127 Bulls victory. But Celtics guard Ray Allen did all he could, dropping 51 points in the loss. Allen was 18-for-32 from the field and 9-for-18 from the three-point line, playing 58 minutes for the Celtics. Boston held on and beat the Bulls in the series to avoid the upset.
12. Jerry West
In the 1964–65 Western Division Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers and Jerry West took on the 37-43 Baltimore Bullets. It wasn’t much of a matchup, even though the Bullets did give the Lakers a scare in a 4-2 series win for Los Angeles. It took a 52-point effort from West in Game 2 to close out a 118-115 victory, when the Lakers guard knocked down 16 field goals and went 20-for-21 from the free-throw line. After dispatching Baltimore from the playoffs, the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
11. Allen Iverson
In that 2001 playoff series between the Raptors and the 76ers, Vince Carter wasn’t the only one to have a big game. Allen Iverson dropped 52 in a big Game 5 win, giving Philadelphia a 3-2 series lead with a 121-88 win. Carter was held to just 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field in 35 minutes, while Iverson was 21-for-32 and 8-for-14 from long range in 43 minutes of play. Iverson found the time to dish out seven assists and come up with four steals in the effort, as well.
10. Jerry West
Again, West pops up on this list; this time, during Game 1 of the 1969 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. West scored 53 points in total, and the Lakers needed every bit of that effort in the 120-118 victory on their home floor. “The Logo” knocked down 21 field goals and shot 11-for-13 from the field, while Wilt Chamberlain chipped in 15 points for Los Angeles. John Havlicek scored 37 points for the Celtics, who got the last laugh when they won Game 7 of the series by a score of 108-106.
9. Michael Jordan
The Chicago Bulls faced a dire situation in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. They lost the first two games of the series, and were in major jeopardy of not making their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. But Chicago won Game 3, setting up a pivotal Game 4 on their home court. Jordan was absolutely magnificent, going 18-for-30 from the field, 6-for-9 from the three-point line, and 12-for-14 from the free-throw line. That totals up to 54 points scored in a 105-95 Bulls win, and Chicago followed it up with two more victories to knock the Knicks from the postseason.
8. Allen Iverson
You can’t possibly be shocked to learn that we have yet another game from that 2001 Raptors and Sixers series. Yet again, it’s Allen Iverson putting on a major scoring display. In Game 2, he scored 54 points on 21-for-39 shooting, taking nearly half of his team’s total shots in the game. The next-highest scorer on the Sixers was Eric Snow, who finished with 10 points on the night. Iverson’s effort scored Philadelphia a victory, however, by a score of 107-92. Fun fact: The Hall of Famer played all but one minute in the game.
7. John Havlicek
The Boston Celtics opened the 1972–73 playoffs with a matchup against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Celtics went 68-14 in the regular season, and they were eager to show why they were one of the greatest teams in NBA history at the outset of their series with the 46-36 Hawks. Forward John Havlicek scored 54 points, putting in 24 field goals and shooting 6-for-6 from the free-throw line, as Boston won a laugher by the score of 134-109. The Celtics finished out the series in six games over Atlanta.
6. Michael Jordan
Since Michael Jordan was so good and appeared on this list so many times, we just went ahead and combined his three 55-point efforts. That’s right, Jordan dropped a double-nickel three separate times in the NBA playoffs. First was in 1988 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, when he shot 24-for-45 from the field. He pulled off the feat again in 1993 in the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, going 21-for-37 with eight rebounds. And finally, against the Washington Bullets in 1997, Jordan put in the final 50-plus point-playoff game of his career by shooting 22-for-35 and 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
5. Allen Iverson
In 2003, the New Orleans Hornets had just moved from Charlotte and spent one final year in the Eastern Conference before moving to the West. That pitted Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, and crew against Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. In Game 1, Iverson absolutely took over to lead his team to a win. He shot 21-for-32 from the field and scored 55 of his team’s 98 points, shooting 65.6% from the field while the rest of his team combined to shoot 15-for-45 (33%). The Sixers won the game, 98-90, and then took the series in six games.
4. Rick Barry
In the 1966–67 NBA Finals, the Philadelphia 76ers took an early 2-0 series lead and put the San Francisco Warriors in a tough spot in Game 3. Knowing that they needed a win to keep their title hopes alive, Rick Barry had one of his very best games. He shot 22-for-48 from the field and 11-for-19 from the free-throw line, dropping 55 points to go along with 12 rebounds and five assists in a 130-124 Warriors victory. The joy was short-lived, however, as Wilt Chamberlain’s Sixers still took the series — and the championship — in six games.
3. Michael Jordan
Fresh off of their first NBA championship, the Chicago Bulls opened the 1991–92 playoffs against the Miami Heat in search of back-to-back titles. The Bulls beat the Heat by 19 points in Game 1, then by 30 in Game 2.
But Miami kept things close on their home court, so Jordan took things upon himself to put it away. He shot 20-for-30 from the floor and 16-for-18 from the free-throw line, putting down 56 points and combining with Scottie Pippen (31 points) to score 87 of Chicago’s 119. Glen Rice scored 25 for the Heat, but it wasn’t enough. Miami lost, 119-114, and got swept out of the playoffs.
2. Charles Barkley
The Phoenix Suns and Charles Barkley faced a similar position in the 1993–94 season. After making a trip to the NBA Finals the year before, Barkley’s Suns opened the playoffs against the Golden State Warriors. Phoenix won the first two games at home, then found themselves in a competitive contest in Game 3. Chris Mullin played all 48 minutes for the Warriors, scoring 30 points with guard Latrell Sprewell scoring 27. But Barkley had the greatest game of his career, scoring 56 in 41 minutes on 23-for-31 shooting (including 3-for-4 on three-pointers) and grabbing 14 rebounds. The Suns swept the Warriors, 140-133.
1. Michael Jordan
In Michael Jordan’s second season with Chicago, back in 1985–86, the Bulls were just 30-52 during the regular season. That’s in large part to a foot injury sustained by Jordan that kept him out of the bulk of the games, but he was able to return for the playoffs to take on the 67-15 Boston Celtics in the first round.
The Bulls got swept in three games, but Jordan put on a show at the Boston Garden in Game 2. In a 135-131 double-overtime loss, Jordan scored a huge 63 points on 22-for-41 shooting (19-for-21 from the free-throw line). For the Celtics, Larry Bird scored 36 points with 12 rebounds and eight assists.