Like many, we were about ready to give up on the Cleveland Cavaliers after they fell behind 2-0 in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Eastern Conference champs were getting absolutely embarrassed by their Western Conference counterpart, and it appeared as if a second straight title for the Warriors was all but a foregone conclusion.
But then LeBron James, who has experienced his ups and downs on this stage, decided to take over — and everything changed. With his team facing another “win or go home” scenario, James unleashed the sort of Game 6 performance folks will talk about for years to come, hitting on 16-27 shots, knocking down 50% of his triples, dishing out 11 assists, pulling down eight rebounds, and finishing with a game-high 41 points, in a 115-101 Cavaliers victory.
With that, we now get to experience one of the most exciting things in all of sports: Game 7. Win or lose, James’ Finals performance will go down as one of the greatest individual efforts in the history of the game.
In fact, after dropping 41 points in both Games 5 and 6, James became just the fifth player in Finals history to have back-t0-back 40-point games in the same series. If you think that’s impressive, just wait until you see who else made the cut.
1. Jerry West
Unlike the other players on this list, Jerry West actually dropped 40 points in consecutive games in two separate NBA Finals, because, well, he’s Jerry West, and that’s just how he rolls.
In the 1965 Finals, a series in which West averaged 33.8 points per game, the Lakers watched as Mr. Clutch erupted for 40-point performances in both Games 2 (45 points on 17 field goals) and 3 (43 points on 13 field goals). Unfortunately for the Los Angeles faithful, these superhuman displays of individual excellence weren’t enough to prevent the Lakers from falling to Boston in five games.
The 1969 NBA Finals followed a similar storyline to that of 1965, with the Celtics defeating the Lakers — this time in seven games — and West putting up ridiculous numbers (37.9 PPG). This time, however, West scored 53 points in a Game 1 victory and followed it up with 41 points in a losing effort in Game 2.
Although Los Angeles and West fell short of their championship aspirations, the latter was selected as the Finals MVP — not a bad consolation prize if you ask us.
2. Rick Barry
Although the San Francisco Warriors fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1967 NBA Finals in six games, San Fran’s Rick Barry was still able to put together one of the greatest performances of all time. In a matchup that saw him average 40.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game, it’s his explosive scoring efforts in Games 3 and 4 that stand out among the rest.
In Game 3, a 130-124 Warriors victory, Barry made 22 field goals, went 11 for 19 from the line, and finished with 55 points, as San Francisco won its first game of the series. While Game 4 saw Philadelphia extend its series lead to 3-1, Barry continued his unstoppable play, putting up 43 points on 17 field goals and nine free throws.
When it was all said and done, however, the 76ers were simply too much for the Warriors to handle — words you will never hear echoed these days.
3. Michael Jordan
Despite a valiant effort from the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls came out on top in the 1993 NBA Finals, winning the franchise’s second consecutive title in six games.
While we’d hate to take anything away from the team, considering this is a team sport and all, we’d be remiss if we failed to acknowledge the individual dominance that was on display, courtesy of the greatest player who ever lived.
In a series in which His Airness averaged 41 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game, Jordan scored 40-plus points in four consecutive games, dropping 42 in Game 2, 44 in Game 3, 55 in Game 4, and 41 in Game 5. With numbers such as these, it’s no wonder he was named Finals MVP.
4. Shaquille O’Neal
In the 2000 NBA Finals, we watched as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers in six games and Shaquille O’Neal reaffirmed his status as the most dominant player in the game. While the Diesel finished the series with an average of 38 points and 16.7 rebounds per contest, we choose to turn our attention to the way he started the series — in unstoppable fashion.
In LA’s Game 1 win, Shaq went 21 for 31 from the field, pulled down 19 boards, and finished with a game-high 43 points. And just to prove that the first game of the series wasn’t a fluke, The Big Aristotle went into Game 2 and made 11 of 18 shots, knocked down 18 free throws, grabbed 24 rebounds, and had 40 points.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the above shot tells you all you need to know about O’Neal and the 2000 NBA Finals.