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NBA Finals history: 10 greatest close-out performances ever

It has been exactly one week since the Milwaukee Bucks ended a 50-year drought without an NBA title defeating the Phoenix Suns in six games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo put up one of the most incredible performances in NBA Finals history with 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.

It was the seventh 50-point game in NBA Finals history and just the second in a Finals clincher. This is also the only game in NBA Finals history in which a player recorded at least 50 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.

With that historic outing from Giannis in the record books, let’s look at the best close-out performances in NBA Finals history.

Bob Pettit: 1958 NBA Finals, Game 6

The 1958 NBA Finals was notable for not only the Atlanta Hawks’ (then St. Louis Hawks) only NBA championship in franchise history, it was also known for the Boston Celtics only NBA Finals loss in the Bill Russell era. Bob Pettit helped lead the Hawks to the Finals for the second consecutive season losing to the Celtics the previous year in seven games.

This year, the Hawks refused to accept defeat for a second straight year, willing squeaking out a 110-109 victory in the series clinching Game 6. Bob Pettit willed his team to a win, posting 50 points and 19 rebounds in the first 50-point effort in NBA Finals history. He accounted for 19 of his team’s 38 shots from the field, and was only one of two players to score in double figures for his team.

Bill Russell: 1962 NBA Finals, Game 7

NBA Finals history: 10 greatest close-out performances ever
Unknown date; Cincinnati, OH, USA; FILE PHOTO; Boston Celtics center Bill Russell (6) fights for a loose ball against Cincinnati Royals guard Oscar Robertson (14) at Cincinnati Gardens. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Russell has a plethora of impressive close-out game performances in his 12 career NBA Finals appearances. He recorded 19 points and 32 rebounds to clinch his first NBA title in 1957, he had 22 points and 35 rebounds in the 1960 NBA Finals clincher, and finished with 30 points and 38 rebounds in the following year’s Finals.

However, all of these pale in comparison to his performance in the Boston Celtics’ 110-107 Game 7 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. He recorded 30 points and 40 rebounds tying an NBA Finals record for rebounds in a game he set himself two years prior. Bill Russell is the only player in NBA Finals history to ever record at least 30 points and 30 rebounds in any game.

Walt Frazier: 1970 NBA Finals, Game 7

While many remember game seven of the 1970 NBA Finals as the game that Willis Reed played through a severe thigh injury contributing to the New York Knicks 113-99 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. What gets lost in translation is the great performances from his teammates — none more impactful than Walt “Clyde” Frazier.

Frazier finished the game with an incredible line of 36 points on 70% shooting, 19 assists and seven rebounds. He is the only player to record over 35 points and 15 assists in an NBA Finals game. It’s also the second-highest assist total in an NBA Finals close-out game and tied for the third most assists in any Finals contest.

Bill Walton: 1977 NBA Finals, Game 6

One of the more underrated players in NBA history who’s prime was unfortunately cut short as a result of injuries was Bill Walton. Bill Walton entered the NBA in 1974 after playing three years in college with the UCLA Bruins leading the team to two NCAA tournament championships. He joined a Portland Trail Blazers team that had only been in the NBA for four seasons and had yet to make the playoffs.

In 1977, Walton led the Blazers to their first NBA playoff appearance in franchise history eventually clinching a berth in the NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers. Leading 3-2 in the series, the Blazers secured their first NBA title, winning the series-clinching Game 6, 109-107.

Walton played like a legend, stuffing the stat sheet finishing with 20 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists and eight blocks. He is one of only two players to record at least 20 points, 20 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks in a Finals close-out game.

Magic Johnson: 1980 NBA Finals, Game 6

Arguably the most famous NBA Finals performance in history, Magic Johnson put on a performance of the ages to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to their first of five championships in the 1980s. Going into Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, the Lakers were leading the series 3-2 over the Philadelphia 76ers looking to close the series. However, they would have to do so without star center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was ruled out with a sprained ankle.

It was then-rookie Magic Johnson who stepped in for Abdul-Jabbar at center from the point guard spot, birthing a game that continues to live on in NBA Finals lore. He finished with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists, leading the Lakers to a 123-107 victory.

James Worthy: 1988 NBA Finals, Game 7

Eight years after the Lakers won their first NBA championship of the 1980s thanks to an epic performance from Magic Johnson, it was James Worthy who put together an all-time great showing to help his team win their fifth and final title in the 1980s.

Worthy put up 36 points on 68% shooting, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, with the Lakers taking a 108-105 win over the Detroit Pistons. This was James Worthy’s only career playoff triple-double, and is only one of three triple-doubles ever recorded in Game 7 of an NBA Finals.

Michael Jordan: 1998 NBA Finals, Game 6

While Michael Jordan did not put up the craziest stat line in the world in Game 6 the 1998 NBA Finals, he makes this list due to the circumstances. Leading 3-2 in the series, the Bulls went into Utah looking to close out the series, but faced much adversity in their pursuit of a sixth championship. For starters, Scottie Pippen was unable to make a full impact on the game only scoring eight points in 25 minutes playing with a back injury.

The Jazz held the lead for most of what was a close and competitive game. With 41 seconds remaining, John Stockton hit a 3-pointer to give his side a three-point lead. Not wanting to send the series to a seventh game back in Utah, potentially having his “last dance” end in disaster, Jordan put together one of the most incredible final sequences in NBA history.

MJ made a layup to cut the Jazz lead to one point, got a steal on Karl Malone in the post on defense, and then came down and hit the famed “Last Shot” with five seconds remaining. That clinched an 87-86 win and the series. Jordan ended up with 45 points, his sixth championship and sixth NBA Finals MVP.

Tim Duncan: 2003 NBA Finals, Game 6

For anyone who thinks that Tim Duncan was just a system player in his career, look no further than his performance in the 2003 NBA Finals for proof that he was just the opposite. In six games against the New Jersey Nets, Duncan averaged 24.2 points, 17.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 5.3 blocks. His 5.3 blocks per game set an NBA record for the highest blocks average in an NBA Finals series.

Duncan nearly made history with his performance in the series-clinching Game 6, recording 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks. He is the only player to ever put up these numbers in an NBA Finals, with only Bill Walton’s 1977 NBA Finals closeout and Shaquille O’Neal’s performance in Game 2 of the 2001 NBA Finals coming close.

“The Big Fundamental” came two blocks short of becoming the first player to ever record a quadruple-double in an NBA Finals game.

Dwyane Wade: 2006 NBA Finals, Game 6

In what was Dwyane Wade’s first ever NBA Finals, he showed NBA fans he was destined for greatness by putting on a star-making performance.

After losing the first two games in the series to the Dallas Mavericks, the Miami Heat bounced back winning four straight to win their first title in franchise history. This made the Heat, at the time, the third team to ever win a title after losing the first two games of the series.

Wade powered his team to victory averaging 39.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in the final four games of the series. In the series close out, Wade nearly recorded the only 5×5 in NBA Finals history finishing with 36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks, with the Heat winning 95-92.

LeBron James: 2016 NBA Finals, Game 7

In the 2016 NBA Finals, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers entered as huge underdogs facing the Golden State Warriors, who were coming off a regular season in which they won 73 games. That broke the 20-year-old record of the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls.

After falling down 3-1 in the series, the Cavaliers fought back winning the next two games to force a decider. In that rubber match, James put his team on his back, posting 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, three blocks and two steals on the way to a 93-89 triumph.

In the final minutes of the game, James made one of the most incredible defensive plays in NBA history chasing down Andre Iguodala and blocking his layup attempt. As a result of their win, the Cavaliers became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals.

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