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Ranking the 50 greatest individual postseasons in modern NBA history

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(Editor's note: This list has been updated to include the top 2018 postseason performances.)

When it comes to historic player performances, the conference playoffs get no love. You can name and debate the best regular seasons and the best NBA Finals efforts, but the best overall postseason run doesn't spark the imagination quite the same way.

The same is true in terms of awards. The best regular seasons are rewarded with the MVP, and there's an MVP of the NBA Finals, but save for the award Bill Simmons invented in "The Book of Basketball," there's nothing to honor the best playoff runs.

Which is what brings us here. Using my wins above replacement player (WARP) metric, we've ranked the best overall postseason performances dating to 1978, the first year the NBA tracked a full box score, including player turnovers.

WARP is up to the task because it considers both quality and quantity of performance. For example, Tim Duncan was better on a per-minute basis in the 2007 playoffs (when he had a 27.4 player efficiency rating) than in 1999 (25.1). But the 23-year-old Duncan was able to log 43.1 minutes per game in the 1999 postseason as opposed to a relatively cushy 36.8 minutes per game in 2007, when he was already 31. Those extra six minutes a game Duncan kept backup Will Perdue on the bench mattered to the San Antonio Spurs, and using WARP credits him for it.

I did make one adjustment to the overall WARP totals. It's unfair to give players credit for playing more games in each series simply because they needed more time to eliminate their opponents. For example, Duncan and the Spurs played 24 games en route to the 2003 title, while Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers needed 16 to win in 2001. Both teams get the same trophy, so they should get equal credit. To do that -- and also adjust for best-of-five and best-of-three series in previous decades -- I prorated each series to an average of six games.

Since the goal of a postseason run is the title, I also added 1 WARP for champions. And, though it doesn't always go to the player who was best in the playoffs, I also awarded a 0.5 WARP bonus to each year's Finals MVP.

With that, we have a ranking of the greatest individual playoff runs in modern NBA history.


1. Michael Jordan, Bulls, 1991

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LeBron earns his first title

On June 21, 2012, LeBron James claimed his first NBA title when the Heat took down the Thunder.

Position: SG | Age: 28

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 9.8

It's no surprise that one of Jordan's six championship runs would rise to the top of these rankings. That Jordan's first title rates as his best individual performance -- and comfortably so -- is a bit unexpected. Remember that, as detailed in "The Jordan Rules," the Bulls were still finding the right balance between being "Michael and the Jordanaires" and a team as late as the fourth quarter of their NBA Finals-clinching Game 5 win over the Lakers in L.A.

After easily dispatching the New York Knicks (3-0 sweep) and Philadelphia 76ers (4-1), Jordan and the Bulls dominated their nemeses, the Detroit Pistons. Jordan shot 53.5 percent from the field as Chicago swept the Bad Boys and conquered the biggest obstacle to a championship. But Jordan saved his greatest moments for the Finals, recording four point-assist double-doubles in five games and averaging 31.2 points, 11.4 assists and 6.6 rebounds against the Lakers.

The Bulls' 15-2 record in 1991 was actually their most dominant postseason of their six title runs. And it easily could have matched or even beaten the 15-1 run by the 2001 Lakers; Chicago's two losses came by two points each, and both times an opponent made the winning 3-pointer in the final 20 seconds (Game 3 at Philadelphia, Hersey Hawkins, and Game 1 vs. the Lakers, Sam Perkins). The Bulls outscored their opponents by an average of 11.7 points, good for second in modern playoff history.


2. LeBron James, Heat, 2012

Position: SF | Age: 27

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 9.7

There's something about the first title run. Like Jordan, James quieted the critics and earned a coveted championship with a historic playoff performance. Unlike the Bulls' romp to the title, however, James' postseason saw him rise to the moment when the Heat appeared to be in trouble.

With Miami trailing the Indiana Pacers 2-1 and down at halftime of Game 4 in the conference semifinals, James exploded for 21 of his 40 points and 13 of his 18 rebounds in the second half as Miami outscored Indiana 55-39 and went on to win the series, 4-2. In the conference finals, the Heat faced elimination in Game 6 at Boston, but James responded with a performance for the ages, making 12 consecutive shot attempts and scoring 30 points by halftime en route to 45 in a win. He topped it off with 31 at home two nights later, clinching the series and sending Miami to a second straight Finals.

No such comebacks were needed in a 4-1 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the next round, but James delivered two free throws in the closing seconds to seal Game 2 and gave the Heat the lead for good with his 3-pointer in Game 4 while battling cramps.

James' overall dominance is tough to deny. He came within six boards of joining Oscar Robertson (in 1963) as the second player to average at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a playoff run.


3. Tim Duncan, Spurs, 2003

Position: PF | Age: 27

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 9.5

In terms of raw playoff WARP, Duncan's 2003 playoff run (8.0) tops the list because the Spurs, as noted in the introduction, needed 24 games to win the championship -- playing exactly six games in every series. Don't blame Duncan. No superstar has done more to drag an undermanned team to the title.

The 2003 Spurs were a team in transition, with David Robinson on his farewell tour and the backcourt of second-year point guard Tony Parker and rookie shooting guard Manu Ginobili yet to grow into co-stars. In the playoffs, Parker (14.7 PPG) and a young Stephen Jackson (12.8) were the only other San Antonio players to average double figures. Yet the Spurs still dispatched of the three-time defending champion L.A. Lakers and a 60-win Dallas Mavericks team (with a little help from Dirk Nowitzki's knee injury) to reach the Finals.

There, against a New Jersey Nets team making its second consecutive Finals appearance, Duncan took over to an unprecedented degree. He averaged 24.2 points, 17.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 5.3 blocks, capped by a 21-20-10-8 performance in the closeout Game 6 that came close to becoming the first quadruple-double in playoffs history. Duncan settled for the only 20-20-10 in the past 27 Finals, his second championship and the third spot on this list.


4. Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers, 2000

Position: C | Age: 28

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 9.3

Peak domination by the center who could call himself "Big Champion" for the first time at the end of this run. Coming off a regular season in which he was one first-place vote away from a unanimous MVP, O'Neal extended his position atop the league over an even 1,000 playoff minutes, a career high and good for ninth in modern NBA history. His 15.4 rebounds per game rank decimal points behind Duncan for the second-highest post-merger total for anyone who reached the NBA Finals, and he grabbed better than 20 percent of all available rebounds, the best of his playoff career.

O'Neal was particularly dominant coming off extended rest at the start of each series: In four Game 1s, he averaged 41.8 points per game on 60.7 percent shooting. But O'Neal left something for the clinchers, too. He had 32 points and 18 rebounds in the deciding Game 5 in the opening round against Sacramento. Though O'Neal's overall stat line (18 points, nine boards) from Game 7 against Portland was pedestrian, he came up with half of those points during the 28-7 run that brought the Lakers back from a 15-point deficit. And O'Neal clinched his first ring with a 41-point outing in Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers -- his third 40-point game of the NBA Finals.


5. Michael Jordan, Bulls, 1993

Position: SG | Age: 30

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 9.1

While the highest-scoring of Jordan's six championship runs didn't produce the kind of iconic memories as other years, it was plenty productive. Despite the growth in his supporting cast, Jordan used 38 percent of Chicago's plays during the postseason, the highest figure of any player ever to win a championship. (In fact, until Carmelo Anthony produced a 38.3 percent usage rate in 2013, it was the most of any player in multiple series.) Yet Jordan maintained his efficiency by making a career-high 28 3-pointers at nearly a 40 percent clip.

Having breezed through the first two rounds 7-0, Jordan and the Bulls ran into a tough New York Knicks defense with home-court advantage. After he was spotted at an Atlantic City casino in the wee hours before Game 2, Jordan shot 12-of-32 as the Knicks took a 2-0 series lead. He responded with 54 points back home in Game 4, then a triple-double (29 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds) in a series-changing Game 5 win at Madison Square Garden. Against Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals, Jordan averaged 41 points, dropping 40-plus three times, highlighted by a 55 on 21-of-37 shooting in Game 4.


6. Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers, 2001

Position: C | Age: 29

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 9.0

The Lakers defended their championship with a 15-1 playoff run, one John Hollinger ranked the greatest in post-merger history, and O'Neal put up nearly a carbon copy of his 2000 performance, averaging identical rebound totals, 0.3 points per game fewer and 0.1 assists per game more. Why does 2000 get the nod? The big difference is in turnovers -- O'Neal averaged 2.4 in 2000 and 3.6 in 2001, enough to bump this one down two spots lower.

There were plenty of impressive performances along the way. O'Neal dropped consecutive 40-20 games on Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings (44-21 in Game 1, 43-20 in Game 2). He bounced back from his worst performance of the playoffs (19 points on 8-of-21 shooting in a Game 2 win at San Antonio) with 35 points on 16-of-23 shooting from the field in a 39-point Game 3 evisceration en route to the sweep. The Lakers' lone loss, Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, came despite O'Neal's 44 points and 20 rebounds. But his best all-around performance of the series might have come in Game 2, as the Lakers rebounded with the first of four consecutive wins: 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and eight blocks.


7. Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets, 1994

Position: C | Age: 31

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 8.9

The year before he was reunited with college teammate Clyde Drexler, Olajuwon dragged a Rockets team without a second star to the first of back-to-back championships. Olajuwon averaged more than twice as many points in the playoffs as Houston's second-leading scorer (Vernon Maxwell, 13.8 points per game), the highest such ratio ever for a championship team. But the Rockets' fleet of outside shooters ideally suited Olajuwon's game, and he dominated the defensive end, becoming the only player to average 4.0 blocks per game in a Finals run.

Houston needed Olajuwon to be great every night, and he scored at least 20 points in 22 of 23 playoff games, including a pair of 40-point efforts. In the NBA Finals, Olajuwon outdueled Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks, averaging 26.1 points while holding Ewing to 18.9 PPG on 36.3 percent shooting in the Rockets' seven-game triumph.


8. LeBron James, Cavaliers, 2016

Position: SF | Age: 31

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 8.9

Having returned home to the Cavaliers, LeBron delivered the city of Cleveland its first major pro sports championship since 1964 in dramatic fashion. Facing a Golden State Warriors team that had set the all-time NBA record with 73 wins, the Cavaliers fell behind 3-1 in the Finals only to deliver the most important comeback in league history -- with James powering the way.

Over the final three games against Golden State, all of them wins, two of them on the road, James averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 9.7 assists. He also delivered the signature play of his remarkable career in the late stages of Game 7, chasing down Andre Iguodala in transition to block a layup attempt that would have given the Warriors the lead.

Naturally, James was phenomenal even before the Finals comeback. The 2016 postseason run was the only time in LeBron's career that he blocked at least 3 percent of opposing 2-point attempts and had at least three steals per 100 plays in the playoffs -- something only Ben Wallace (for the 2003 Detroit Pistons) has done while playing more than 400 minutes since the ABA-NBA merger.


9. Moses Malone, 76ers, 1983

Position: C | Age: 28

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 8.8

While the 76ers couldn't quite live up to Malone's famous "fo', fo', fo'" declaration -- they actually went fo', fi', fo', losing Game 4 at Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference finals -- they came as close to playoff perfect as any team before them. Malone carried the team there in far and away his best postseason run. His 15.8 rebounds per game was the highest of any player to reach the Finals post-merger, and Malone's 53.6 percent shooting tied his best in a playoff run.

Aside from a 38-point outing in as many minutes during the first game of the postseason against New York, Malone was more about consistency than big performances. He recorded a double-double in all 13 games Philadelphia played and wrapped up an NBA Finals sweep of the Lakers with his only 20-20 effort (24 points, 23 rebounds). In the Finals, Malone outscored Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 103-94 and outrebounded him 72-30 in virtually identical minute totals.


10. LeBron James, Heat, 2013

Position: SF | Age: 28

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 8.8

LeBron's third top-10 playoff performance -- one more than Jordan -- came as the Heat repeated in 2013, a championship that looked doomed late in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Thrown by the San Antonio Spurs backing off defensively and daring him to shoot, James had an uneven Finals. He scored just 50 total points on sub-40 percent shooting in the first three games as San Antonio took a 2-1 lead.

With Miami trailing at home in the fourth quarter of a must-win Game 6, James found his groove, leading a comeback that was capped by Ray Allen's improbable 3 to force overtime. Given new life, James brought the Heat home in Game 7 with 37 points on 12-of-23 shooting and 12 rebounds. For the second consecutive postseason, LeBron led all players in both offensive and defensive win shares in the playoffs, according to Basketball-Reference.com.


11. Larry Bird, Celtics, 1984

Position: SF | Age: 27

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 8.5

A playoff run that culminated with the Celtics beating the Lakers in seven games in the first of their three meetings goes down as the best of Larry Legend's career -- barely. Bird's 27.5 points per game marked his highest postseason scoring average, and he managed that figure while shooting a career-high 52.4 percent from the field. He scored at least 20 points in 22 of 23 games.

Bird's best outing came in Game 5 of the conference semifinals, as Boston closed out New York behind his 39 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Bird outscored Bernard King in the series, 30.4 PPG to 29.1. Going against Lakers stopper Michael Cooper in the Finals, Bird alternated tough shooting nights with great ones. In a crucial Game 4 win at L.A., he scored 29 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and put the Celtics ahead for good with a jumper in overtime.


12. Larry Bird, Celtics, 1986

Position: SF | Age: 29

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 8.4

Picking between Bird's 1984 and 1986 playoff runs is like choosing between Biggie or 2Pac: Either way, you're arguing for greatness. By 1986, Bird's evolution into a perimeter-oriented small forward was complete. He became the first NBA player to make 50 percent from the field, 40 percent on 3-point shots and 90 percent of free throws taken in a playoff run with at least 50 3-point attempts (three players have done it since, none of whom reached the Finals that season). Bird also averaged 8.2 assists, the best mark of his playoff career at the time, taking advantage of the deepest roster the Celtics put together in the 1980s.

If anything, Bird wasn't tested enough as Boston was forced to a Game 6 just once. He peaked at 36 points in both Game 2 and Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinals. During the NBA Finals, facing the Houston Rockets, Bird topped the 30-point mark just once but recorded two of his three playoff triple-doubles, including 29 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds as Boston closed out the series in Game 6.


13. Tim Duncan, Spurs, 1999

Position: PF | Age: 23

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 8.1

No asterisk here. Duncan's first championship run saw him average 43.1 minutes per game, his highest playoff average, for a team that rolled through the post-lockout playoffs 15-2.

In the NBA Finals, Duncan played 229 of a possible 240 minutes as the Spurs defeated the New York Knicks 4-1, averaging 27.4 points and 14.0 rebounds. The hidden key to Duncan's playoff success? He made 74.8 percent of his free throw attempts, including 35 of 44 (79.5 percent) in the Finals.


14. Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers, 2002

Position: C | Age: 30

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 8.0

With Kobe Bryant emerging as a co-star, O'Neal carried a slightly lighter load in terms of scoring and rebounding in the Lakers' third consecutive title. But he was still capable of taking over, including a 41-point, 17-board effort in the infamous Game 6 win over Sacramento in the Western Conference finals.

O'Neal obliterated rookie Jason Collins and Todd MacCulloch in the NBA Finals, averaging 36.1 points, 12.0 rebounds and 17.0 free throw attempts (shooting a timely 66.2 percent at the line) in a four-game sweep of the New Jersey Nets.


15. Dwyane Wade, Heat, 2006

Position: SG | Age: 24

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 7.9

John Hollinger ranked Wade's Finals performance against the Dallas Mavericks (34.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 97 free throw attempts in six games) the greatest in post-merger history. A young, explosive Wade lived at the foul line all postseason; his 250 attempts rank fourth in NBA history, and only then-teammate Shaquille O'Neal has taken more. Wade's playmaking -- he recorded four point-assist double-doubles -- also helped get Miami to the NBA Finals.


16. LeBron James, Cavaliers, 2018

Position: SF | Age: 33

Result: Lost NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 7.9

James topped three of his other playoff runs for the highest-rated ever by a player whose team did not bring home the Larry O'Brien trophy. In terms of adjusted WARP before the bonuses, LeBron's 2018 postseason ranks fourth in modern history. His 34.0 points per game was James' second-highest in a playoff run, while his 9.0 assists per game was his best mark in the playoffs.

Carrying a team that lost Kyrie Irving back to the Finals, James posted four triple-doubles and averaged 42 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists in three must-win games against the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics. Against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, even LeBron's 51 points in Game 1 -- his most ever in a playoff game -- wasn't enough to get the outmatched Cavaliers a win.


17. Michael Jordan, Bulls, 1992

Position: SG | Age: 29

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 7.9

The longest of Jordan's championship runs at 22 games saw his second-highest scoring average in a title year. It came at a price: Jordan was much more prone to turnovers, which bumped him out of the top 10. Jordan had big moments throughout the postseason. He dropped 56 on an overmatched Miami squad to complete a sweep and came through with 42 points in a blowout after the Knicks forced a Game 7.

The defining memory remains Game 1 of the NBA Finals versus Portland, when Jordan hit six 3-pointers in the first half against rival Clyde Drexler and shrugged at Magic Johnson (broadcasting the game for NBC) to indicate his own disbelief. Jordan finished the game with 39 points and averaged 35.8 in the Finals.


18. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lakers, 1980

Position: C | Age: 33

Result: Won NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 7.7

If not for an ill-timed sprained ankle, Abdul-Jabbar might have placed in the top 10. Abdul-Jabbar rolled his ankle in the third quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the 76ers. Though he came back to score 14 points in the fourth quarter of the win, swelling prevented Abdul-Jabbar from traveling back to Philadelphia for Game 6. Magic Johnson moved to center in his place, led the Lakers to an improbable win and claimed Finals MVP honors despite Abdul-Jabbar averaging 33.4 points, 13.6 rebounds and 4.6 blocks in the five games he was able to play.


19. Magic Johnson, Lakers, 1987

Position: PG | Age: 27

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 7.6

Fittingly, Johnson's best postseason run puts him right behind Abdul-Jabbar. In 1986-87, Johnson replaced the aging captain as the Lakers' go-to guy. That was on full display in the NBA Finals against the rival Celtics, as Johnson averaged 26.2 points, 13.0 assists and 8.2 rebounds to beat Boston in six games and earn MVP honors. Johnson's "junior, junior sky hook" won Game 4 of the series at the Garden, and he had three playoff triple-doubles, though surprisingly none in the Finals.


20. LeBron James, Cavaliers, 2017

Position: SF | Age: 32

Result: Lost NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 7.5

LeBron's 2017 postseason eclipsed his own in 2009 as the highest rated for a player whose team did not win the championship -- only to be passed by him again the following season. Certainly, James couldn't be blamed for his team falling short. He was the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double in the Finals (33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists per game). LeBron also scored 30 points or more in 14 of his 18 playoff games.


21. Stephen Curry, Warriors, 2017

Position: PG | Age: 28

Result: Won NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 7.4

Curry took a backseat to teammate Kevin Durant as the Warriors beat Cleveland 4-1 in the Finals to claim their second championship in three years, but earlier in the postseason -- with Durant missing two games due to a calf strain -- Curry was the man. He narrowly missed posting a 50/40/90 playoff run, shooting 49.5 percent from the field, and per Basketball-Reference.com, his .659 true shooting percentage was second only to James' in 2014 among players who were used on at least 30 percent of their team's plays in the postseason.


22. Kobe Bryant, Lakers, 2009

Position: SG | Age: 30

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 7.4

Bryant earned his first championship as a go-to guy with his best postseason run. After a tough series with Houston's Shane Battier, who held him to 14 points in Game 7, Bryant was nearly unstoppable the rest of the way to the title. He averaged 34.0 points, including a pair of 40-plus efforts, against Denver in the Western Conference finals. Bryant started the NBA Finals versus Orlando with a 40-point effort and handed out eight assists in four of the five games.


23. Michael Jordan, Bulls, 1997

Position: SG | Age: 34

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 7.3

The highest-rated title run from Jordan's second three-peat is remembered best for the "Flu Game." (Or was it, as Jordan's trainer Tim Grover once suggested, the "Food Poisoning Game"?) Either way, Jordan was ill to the point of nausea when he dropped 38 points at Utah, and the Bulls needed every one of them in a two-point Game 5 win that gave them the series lead. Chicago would finish the Jazz in Game 6, with Jordan setting up Steve Kerr's championship-securing jumper. If that wasn't enough, Jordan also made the winning shot at the buzzer in Game 1.


24. Larry Bird, Celtics, 1981

Position: SF | Age: 24

Result: Won NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 7.3

Bird posted the third-best championship playoff run that did not win the Bill Russell Trophy as Finals MVP. The Rockets held Bird to 15.3 points and 41.9 percent shooting in the Finals, while Cedric Maxwell averaged 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds on 56.8 percent shooting from the field to win MVP honors.

Bird did contribute 15.3 rebounds per game in the Finals, capping his best playoff run on the glass. And he got the better of Julius Erving in the Eastern Conference finals, averaging 26.7 points as the Celtics knocked off the defending East champs.


25. Michael Jordan, Bulls, 1996

Position: SG | Age: 33

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 7.2

Jordan's first full season back from retirement ended with a 72-win Chicago team claiming the championship on Father's Day, less than three years after Jordan's father, James, was murdered. John Hollinger rated this as Jordan's worst Finals; he averaged 23.7 points on 36.7 percent shooting after Gary Payton switched onto him for Game 4, and the Sonics were able to extend the series to six games.

Jordan was better earlier in the playoffs, dropping a pair of 40-plus efforts on the Knicks and scoring 45 in Game 4 against Orlando as the Bulls avenged their 1995 loss with an Eastern Conference finals sweep.


26. Tim Duncan, Spurs, 2007

Position: PF | Age: 31

Result: Won NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 7.2

Tony Parker claimed Finals MVP honors by leading all scorers with 24.5 points on 56.8 percent shooting in a defense-first sweep of Cleveland. But Duncan, who shot just 44.6 percent while averaging 18.3 points and 11.5 rebounds in the Finals, came through in San Antonio's most difficult series -- a 4-2 win over the rival Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals. Duncan torched the Suns for 26.8 points, 13.7 rebounds and 4.2 blocks per game.


27. LeBron James, Cavaliers, 2009

Position: SF | Age: 24

Result: Lost in East finals

Pelton's rating: 7.1

Not only did the Cavaliers not win the title in 2009, they didn't even reach the NBA Finals, bowing out to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals. James was more valuable in three series than any Finals loser but himself in 2017 was in four. On a per-minute basis, James' .879 individual win percentage (the estimate of how often James and four average players would win) blows away any playoff performance since the merger. He used 36.4 percent of Cleveland's plays with a true shooting percentage north of 60 percent, rebounded like a big man and passed like a point guard.

In the East finals, James averaged 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists, making a buzzer-beating 3 for one of the Cavaliers' two wins. Alas, Cleveland's supporting cast wasn't up to the task. No reserve averaged more than 3.6 points per game in the series.


28. Stephen Curry, Warriors, 2015

Position: PG | Age: 27

Result: Won NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 7.1

After winning his first NBA MVP award, Curry led the Warriors to their first championship with a playoff run that probably doesn't get enough credit. After all, Curry averaged 26 points and 6.3 assists as Golden State beat Cleveland 4-2 in the Finals, making 4.2 3-pointers a game at a 38.5 percent clip.

Yet teammate Andre Iguodala won Finals MVP on the strength of his defense against LeBron and the way the series changed when he was inserted into the starting lineup. With hindsight, if James wasn't going to win MVP, Curry was probably the right pick.


29. Magic Johnson, Lakers, 1980

Position: PG | Age: 20

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 7.0

The precocious Johnson put together the finest postseason by a rookie since the merger to become the only first-year player to win Finals MVP honors. As a 20-year-old, Johnson nearly averaged a triple-double and better than three steals per game. And, of course, he saved his best performance for the clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Philadelphia. After moving to center in place of the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and handed out seven assists in the win.


30. Magic Johnson, Lakers, 1982

Position: PG | Age: 22

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 7.0

After an embarrassing 1981 playoffs -- the Rockets upset the Lakers in the best-of-three first round, with Johnson airballing a shot in the closing seconds of Game 3 -- a healthy Johnson put together a near-carbon copy of his 1980 run to lead the Lakers to a second title. This time, Johnson finished off the Sixers with a triple-double in Game 6, clinching his second Finals MVP award.


31. Michael Jordan, Bulls, 1998

Position: SG | Age: 35

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 7.0

With Scottie Pippen injured for most of the regular season, the 35-year-old Jordan was worn down by the end of Chicago's second three-peat. Increasingly prone to off shooting nights, Jordan compensated with his ability to get to the free throw line. He had enough left for one last signature performance: 45 points in Game 6 at Utah, including a steal and the game-winning jumper over Bryon Russell in the closing seconds to secure a sixth title.


32. Isiah Thomas, Pistons, 1990

Position: PG | Age: 29

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 6.9

Thomas was at his best in the playoffs during the second of the Pistons' back-to-back championship runs in large part because of a well-timed hot streak beyond the arc. A 29 percent career 3-point shooter, Thomas went 11-of-16 (68.8 percent) from downtown as Detroit took care of Portland in five games. Thomas averaged 27.6 points and 7.0 assists in the series.


33. LeBron James, Heat, 2014

Position: SF | Age: 29

Result: Lost NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.8

Again, James was the best player in the playoffs in a losing cause during his final go-round with the Heat. By this stage of his career, LeBron had achieved peak efficiency, posting a career-best .668 true shooting percentage in the 2014 playoffs -- best ever by a player who used at least 30 percent of his team's plays. That wasn't enough in the Finals, as Miami lost 4-1 to San Antonio despite James' 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and .679 true shooting in the series.


34. Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets, 1986

Position: C | Age: 23

Result: Lost NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.7

Olajuwon's 1986 run ranks as the best by a player whose team lost the Finals besides LeBron. On a per-minute basis, Olajuwon was even more effective than when he led the 1994 Rockets to the championship. He averaged nearly 10 free throw attempts per game and was huge in a Western Conference finals upset of the Lakers, averaging 31.0 points and 11.2 rebounds. (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 27.0 ppg and 6.8 rpg.)


35. Scottie Pippen, Bulls, 1996

Position: SF | Age: 30

Result: Won NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.7

Pippen's 1996 playoff run rates as the most valuable by a second banana, just ahead of Magic Johnson's 1980 postseason (Johnson appears higher in the rankings because he won Finals MVP). While he struggled with his shot (34.3 percent in the Finals), Pippen was at his best defensively, averaging 2.6 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. And he put together one of his best all-around performances with 22 points, 18 boards and 10 assists in Game 3 against Miami in the opening round.


36. Tim Duncan, Spurs, 2005

Position: PF | Age: 29

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 6.7

Like the title run itself, Duncan's 2005 playoffs were the most workmanlike of his four championship seasons. He shot just 46.7 percent from the field in the postseason, including 41.9 percent in a rugged seven-game NBA Finals against Detroit. Yet Duncan was his usual consistent presence, contributing 18 double-doubles in 23 games and anchoring the defense, which earned him Finals MVP honors.


37. Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets, 1995

Position: C | Age: 32

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 6.7

Olajuwon actually scored more in the Rockets' repeat despite the arrival of Clyde Drexler. The center topped 40 points five times, including three alone in his Western Conference finals destruction of MVP David Robinson. (Olajuwon: 35.3 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 5.0 apg, 4.2 bpg; Robinson: 23.8 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.2 bpg.) So why does 1995 rate so much lower? Olajuwon wasn't the same defensive presence, blocking shots about 20 percent less frequently than in 1994.


38. Kobe Bryant, Lakers, 2001

Position: SG | Age: 22

Result: Won NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.7

Far and away Bryant's best effort as a sidekick came during the Lakers' 15-1 playoff run. He was supremely versatile, recording five point-rebound double-doubles and one of the point-assist variety. Bryant's best scoring output came in consecutive games as the Lakers swept away Sacramento and started a sweep of San Antonio. He put up 93 points on just 76 shooting possessions (field goal attempts and trips to the free throw line) in the two wins.


39. Kevin Durant, Warriors, 2018

Position: SF | Age: 29

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 6.6

Durant took home his second Bill Russell trophy as Finals MVP in as many years thanks largely to his dominant performance in Game 3 against the Cavaliers. With Steph Curry and backcourt mate Klay Thompson shooting a combined 7-of-27, Durant carried the Warriors to the road win with 43 points on 15-of-23 shooting, 13 rebounds and seven assists -- including a crucial late 3-pointer. Durant averaged 7.5 assists in the Finals, recording a triple-double in Game 4 as Golden State finished off the sweep and erasing questions about his iso-heavy style that came up when the Houston Rockets took the Warriors the distance in the conference finals.


40. Scottie Pippen, Bulls, 1991

Position: SF | Age: 25

Result: Won NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.5

The Bulls' first championship was also Pippen's highest scoring as a No. 2 option (he averaged 22.8 ppg in 1994 when Michael Jordan was in retirement). Pippen made a solid 52.1 percent of his 2-point shots while supplying his usual all-around brilliance. He recorded seven point-rebound double-doubles and two more of the point-assist variety. Pippen capped the title run with 32 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and five steals in Game 5 of the Finals as Chicago closed out the Lakers.


41. Charles Barkley, Suns, 1993

Position: PF | Age: 30

Result: Lost NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.5

After Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Barkley told Ahmad Rashad that God wanted the Suns to beat the Chicago Bulls. Alas, neither divine intervention nor one of the best playoff efforts by a Finals loser could prevent the Bulls from completing their first three-peat.

Earlier in the playoffs, Barkley hit a buzzer-beater to complete a 4-2 series win over San Antonio and came through with 44 points and 24 points in the deciding Game of the Western Conference finals against Seattle, one of three 40-plus efforts from Barkley during the postseason.


42. Kevin Durant, Warriors, 2017

Position: SF | Age: 28

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 6.5

While Curry was the more valuable player throughout the entire postseason, there's no question Durant dominated the Finals en route to his first championship, outplaying LeBron head-to-head.

Durant averaged 35.2 points -- scoring at least 30 points in all five games -- plus 8.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists, shooting 56 percent from the field and 47 percent on 3s. He also delivered the biggest shot of the series, making a pull-up 3 with 45 seconds left in Game 3 to give the Warriors the lead for good as they took an insurmountable 3-0 edge in the series.


43. Kobe Bryant, Lakers, 2010

Position: SG | Age: 31

Result: Won NBA Finals | Finals MVP

Pelton's rating: 6.4

In a rare NBA Finals Game 7 -- one of just two between 1994 and 2013 -- Bryant suffered through a 6-of-24 shooting night but still helped the Lakers beat the rival Celtics by grabbing 15 rebounds and getting to the free throw line 15 times. Bryant also earned Finals MVP honors despite shooting just 40.5 percent from the field. His best series was the Western Conference finals against Phoenix, in which he averaged 33.7 points, 8.3 assists and 7.2 rebounds.


44. Kevin Durant, Thunder, 2012

Position: SF | Age: 23

Result: Lost NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.4

Durant opened the playoffs with a game-winning jumper that kicked off a four-game sweep of the Dallas Mavericks and rode the momentum all the way to the NBA Finals. Despite facing the opposition's best defender and double-teams, Durant made 57.5 percent of his 2-pointers and 37.3 percent beyond the arc. He scored at least 20 points in every Oklahoma City game and averaged 30.6 PPG during the NBA Finals, which wasn't enough to avoid a five-game loss to the Heat.


45. Michael Jordan, Bulls, 1990

Position: SG | Age: 27

Result: Lost in East finals

Pelton's rating: 6.3

Before the maturation of teammates Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen, Jordan's heroics alone weren't enough to get the Bulls past the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons -- but they were close.

Responsible for creating more than 36 percent of Chicago's plays, Jordan still shot better than 50 percent from the field in a run nearly the per-minute equal of the 1991 postseason that tops this list. He scored 40-plus points six times in 16 games, yet Detroit was able to hold him to 26.8 PPG in four losses in a seven-game Eastern Conference finals.


46. Dwight Howard, Magic, 2009

Position: C | Age: 23

Result: Lost NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.3

Tucking his cape beneath his Magic jersey, Howard became Superman to lead Orlando to an unexpected spot in the NBA Finals. Howard grabbed better than one in four rebounds in the postseason, the best postmerger mark by any regular not named Dennis Rodman.

Howard finished an Eastern Conference finals upset of LeBron James and the Cavaliers with 40 points and 14 boards, shooting 14-of-21 from the field and 12-of-16 from the free throw line.


47. David Robinson, Spurs, 1999

Position: C | Age: 33

Result: Won NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.3

After nearly a decade of playoff frustration, Robinson won his first championship by making room for a young Tim Duncan to emerge as the Spurs' go-to player. But a 33-year-old Robinson still had plenty left to contribute to the effort, averaging nearly a double-double and 2.4 blocks per game.

Against the Knicks in the NBA Finals, Robinson averaged 16.6 points and 11.8 rebounds and recorded four double-doubles in five games.


48. LeBron James, Cavs, 2007

Position: SF | Age: 22

Result: Lost NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.2

The 2007 Eastern Conference finals served notice that James, at 22, had made the leap to superstardom. After the veteran Pistons took a 2-0 lead at home, James led the Cavaliers to four consecutive wins. His "48 special" in Game 5 at Detroit saw James score 29 of the team's last 30 points, most of which came in the paint, and he followed it up with 20 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists as Cleveland clinched its first trip to the NBA Finals. Even a four-game sweep at the hands of the Spurs could not diminish James' postseason.


49. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks, 2006

Position: PF | Age: 27

Result: Lost NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.2

With a run to the 2006 NBA Finals, Nowitzki kicked off a 12-month stretch in which he was the world's best player. He dragged the Mavericks past the defending champion Spurs by scoring 37 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in a Game 7 at San Antonio, including the three-point play that forced overtime.

After shooting 3-of-13 as Phoenix tied the Western Conference finals at two, Nowitzki dropped 50 points in Game 5 en route to a 4-2 series win. But Miami finally found an answer for Nowitzki in the NBA Finals, holding him to 39.2 percent shooting in a six-game triumph over his Mavs.


50. Pau Gasol, Lakers, 2010

Position: PF | Age: 29

Result: Won NBA Finals

Pelton's rating: 6.2

Few NBA Finals have sparked as much debate about MVP as 2010. When Bryant was shooting 6-of-24 in Game 7, Gasol had 19 points and 18 boards in the clincher. (In fairness, he shot 6-of-16 himself.) Bryant got the award, but Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) favors Gasol, who averaged 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.6 blocks per game against the Celtics.

Gasol also had the better WARP total throughout the postseason -- the best of his career -- but Bryant edges him on these rankings because of the Finals MVP bonus.