Updated: Jun 14, 2022
The 2022 NBA playoffs have provided us with some great individual performances, which has led to lots of discussion about the best individual playoff runs of all time. So in this article I countdown the top ten playoff runs since 1980 by an individual player.
10: Tim Duncan - 2003
Photo via Bleacher Report
In the 2003 playoffs, Tim Duncan really started to put his stamp on the greatest power forward of all time conversation. He led the Spurs passed the Phoenix Suns, the three time defending champion, Los Angeles Lakers, led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, the Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash led Dallas Mavericks, Nowitzki missed the last three games of that series with an injury. Then closed out the playoffs by averaging 24.2 points and 17 rebounds per game, while shooting 49% from the floor in the finals against the Jason Kidd led New Jersey Nets. For the entire playoff run, Duncan averaged 24.7 points and 15.3 rebounds while shooting 52.8% from the floor.
9: Dwyane Wade - 2006
Photo courtesy of ESPN
In just his third year in the league, Dwyane Wade, led the Miami Heat to the franchise's first championship. Wade improved in each round as the competition got tougher. After defeating the Chicago Bulls and then New Jersey Nets in the first two rounds, he had one of the most efficient series of all time against the Detroit Pistons. In those conference finals, he averaged 26.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists per game while shooting 61% from the floor. 61% from the floor as a guard against a great defensive team like the Pistons should be mentioned more often. It gets overshadowed by Wade's dominance in the finals as he averaged, 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game, as he shot 46% from the field to lead the Heat back from a 2-0, deficit against the Mavericks.
8: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 1980
Photo provided by Sports Illustrated
There are a lot of younger basketball fans who are just now getting familiar with how great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was because of the HBO's new hit show, "Winning Time". The first season of that show depicts the Los Angeles Lakers during the, 1979-1980, NBA season, which was the beginning of the Lakers dynasty in the 1980s. Abdul-Jabbar had one of the best playoff runs, we will ever see during that season, he averaged 32 points, and 12 rebounds per game, as he shot 57.3% from the floor. Abdul-Jabbar should of won finals MVP as he torched the 76ers for 33.4 points and 13.6 rebounds per game while shooting 55% from the floor but he got hurt in game five and Magic Johnson had one of the greatest games of all-time playing the center position in his place and was rewarded the finals MVP.
7: Magic Johnson - 1987
Photo via Lakers Nation
In 1987, Magic Johnson had a phenomenal playoff run that includes one of the most iconic shots of all time, the "Baby Sky Hook" to win game 4 of the NBA Finals. Johnson was responsible for so much of the productivity for the Lakers. Magic was amazingly consistent throughout those playoffs, averaging 21 points, 12.2 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 54.2% from the floor. Magic would pull a rabbit out his hat in the finals, averaging, 26.2 points, 13 assists, and 8 rebounds per game and shoot 54.2% from the floor, to lead the Lakers passed Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.
6: Shaquille O'Neal - 2000
Photo provided by Lakers Nation
There was a lot of pressure on the Los Angeles Lakers heading into the 2000 NBA Playoffs. Shaquille O'Neal had one of the most dominant regular seasons of all time, leading to him winning the Most Valuable Player award but would he finally get over the hump in the playoffs? Not only did he get over the hump, he stomped on the hump and left a whole in it. During that playoff run Shaq led the Lakers passed the Chris Webber and Jason Williams led Sacramento Kings, the Jason Kidd, Penny Hardaway, Phoenix Suns, the ensemble cast of players that the Portland Trailblazers had and then finished it off by defeating Reggie Miller, Jalen Rose, and the Indiana Pacers. O'Neal averaged 30.8 points, 15.6 rebounds, and shot 56% from the floor during this run.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon - 1995
In the 1995 NBA playoffs, the Houston Rockets were in a strange position as the defending NBA Champions that entered the post season as the number six seed in the western conference. Hakeem Olajuwon led the Rockets passed the John Stockton, Karl Malone, Utah Jazz, the Charles Barkley led Phoenix Suns, then famously beats the regular season MVP, David Robinson, the San Antonio Spurs before sweeping the Shaq and Penny, Orlando Magic. During this run, Olajuwon averaged, 33.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game, as he shot 53% from the floor.
4: Giannis Antetokounmpo - 2021
Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports
In last year's playoffs, Giannis Antetokounmpo, further established himself as an all-time great. The Greek Freak went nuts throughout the entire post-season as he averaged 29.2 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game, shooting 56% from the floor. He led the Bucks passed Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat, Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets, Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks, and then closes out the playoffs by coming back from a 2-0 deficit against the Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns. After hyper-extending his knee in the conference finals, Antetokounmpo came back in the finals to average 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 5 assists per game to help Milwaukee win their first championship since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was in a Bucks uniform.
3. Dirk Nowitzki - 2011
Photo courtesy of The Washington Post
Heading into the 2011 NBA Playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks were at a cross-roads moment after a few disappointing seasons in a row. Dirk Nowitzki had lots of regular season success up to the point in his career with some post-season moments both really good and really bad. He was a great player with the reputation of a very good player. After the 2011 playoffs, his reputation would catch up with his actual skill. Nowitzki led the Mavericks, passed Portland, the two-time defending champion, Los Angeles Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led Oklahoma City Thunder, and then capped it off by leading the Mavs to one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history as Dallas defeated the Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh led Miami Heat. Throughout the playoff run, Nowitzki averaged 27.7 points, and 8.1 rebounds per game while shooting 49.6% from the floor, 47% from three point range, and 94% from the free throw line. Those shooting numbers are absolutely insane when you consider the competition he did this against.
2. Michael Jordan - 1993
Photo via CGTN
The Chicago Bulls were two-time defending champions heading into the 1993 NBA Playoffs and Michael Jordan was at the peak of his powers. He was still the best athlete in the league along with being maybe the most skilled player we have ever seen. In the playoffs, he was a machine, averaging 34.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists per game, while shooting 48% from the floor. In the NBA Finals, Jordan would go to another level as he averaged 41 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game to lead the Bulls passed the Charles Barkley led Phoenix Suns.
1: LeBron James - 2018
Photo provided by Business Insider
The 2018 NBA Finals are mostly remembered for this moment between LeBron James and JR Smith that became a meme that will live forever on social media but what we should remember from the 2018 playoffs outside of Golden State winning their third title in four years, is the way LeBron carried the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. James damn near averaged a triple-double during this run, as he put up 34 points, 9 rebounds, and 9.3 assists per game, as he shot 53.6% from the floor. A lot of readers will disagree with this choice at number one because the Cavs were swept in the finals but that was no fault of LeBron's as he averaged 34 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10 assists per game, while shooting 52% from the floor. In game one, James put up one of, if not, the best stat line in NBA Finals history, 51 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds, on 59% shooting from the floor. No wonder he was so upset at JR Smith, after that blunder.
This was an extremely hard list to make and there were quite a few years that I struggled with not putting in my top ten like: LeBron James in 2007, 2012, or 2016, Michael Jordan in 1992 or 1996, Kevin Durant in 2017 or 2018, Steph Curry in 2015, Kobe Bryant in 2001,2002, or 2009, Allen Iverson in 2001, and Moses Malone in 1983, among others.
Do you agree with this list? If not, what would be your top ten individual playoff runs since 1980.