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Best Elimination-Game Performances, 1991-2010

Posted by Neil Paine on April 26, 2010

See also: Best Elimination-Game Performances: Win Shares Edition

While Dwyane Wade was scorching the Celtics yesterday for 46 points and single-handedly keeping Miami's slim playoff chances alive with a barrage of 4th-quarter threes, I wondered if it was one of the greatest elimination-game performances in recent memory. So I queried the Basketball-Reference database and called up every game in our playoff gamelogs (which go back to the 1991 postseason), finding every instance where a player's team went into the game 1 loss away from being ousted from the playoffs. Here are the 50 best scoring outbursts in games that matched that criteria:

Date Player Team Opp Rd G# MP FG FGA 3P 3PA FT FTA PTS
5/20/1995 Kevin Johnson PHO HOU WCS 7 42 12 26 1 2 21 22 46
5/3/2002 Paul Pierce BOS PHI EC1 5 44 16 25 8 10 6 7 46
4/25/2010 Dwyane Wade MIA BOS EC1 4 43 16 24 5 7 9 14 46
5/18/2008 LeBron James CLE BOS ECS 7 47 14 29 3 11 14 19 45
6/5/1993 Charles Barkley PHO SEA WCF 7 46 12 20 1 1 19 22 44
6/3/2001 Allen Iverson PHI MIL ECF 7 44 17 33 4 6 6 7 44
5/11/2009 Dirk Nowitzki DAL DEN WCS 4 44 14 25 0 0 16 17 44
5/17/1992 Michael Jordan CHI NYK ECS 7 42 15 29 0 0 12 13 42
4/29/1997 Anfernee Hardaway ORL MIA EC1 3 47 16 30 1 4 9 10 42
4/28/2001 Tracy McGrady ORL MIL EC1 3 50 14 32 0 2 14 18 42
5/14/2001 Dirk Nowitzki DAL SAS WCS 5 47 14 24 0 1 14 18 42
4/28/2002 Allen Iverson PHI BOS EC1 3 44 10 23 3 5 19 20 42
6/1/2005 Amare Stoudemire PHO SAS WCF 5 46 16 32 0 1 10 11 42
5/5/1995 Clyde Drexler HOU UTA WC1 4 41 12 18 4 8 13 14 41
5/1/1997 Anfernee Hardaway ORL MIA EC1 4 48 12 23 4 8 13 16 41
5/4/2000 Reggie Miller IND MIL EC1 5 39 15 25 3 7 8 10 41
6/1/2001 Ray Allen MIL PHI ECF 6 43 12 25 9 13 8 8 41
5/31/2002 Shaquille O'Neal LAL SAC WCF 6 44 14 25 0 0 13 17 41
5/22/2006 Tim Duncan SAS DAL WCS 7 50 12 24 0 1 17 23 41
5/18/2008 Paul Pierce BOS CLE ECS 7 44 13 23 4 6 11 12 41
5/1/2009 Dwyane Wade MIA ATL EC1 6 39 11 23 3 7 16 17 41
5/5/1995 Hakeem Olajuwon HOU UTA WC1 4 38 14 22 0 0 12 15 40
5/2/2003 Chauncey Billups DET ORL EC1 6 45 11 23 7 14 11 12 40
5/4/2006 Anthony Johnson IND NJN EC1 6 45 16 23 3 5 5 9 40
5/2/2008 Tracy McGrady HOU UTA WC1 6 42 13 26 2 7 12 18 40
6/12/1998 Karl Malone UTA CHI FIN 5 44 17 27 0 1 5 6 39
5/18/2001 Vince Carter TOR PHI ECS 6 43 17 31 4 8 1 2 39
5/18/1997 Tim Hardaway MIA NYK ECS 7 45 12 20 6 10 8 10 38
5/24/1998 Shaquille O'Neal LAL UTA WCF 4 39 14 24 0 0 10 18 38
5/16/2003 Allen Iverson PHI DET ECS 6 53 14 33 1 1 9 10 38
5/3/2005 Peja Stojakovic SAC SEA WC1 5 42 14 25 5 9 5 5 38
5/18/2007 Amare Stoudemire PHO SAS WCS 6 41 14 28 1 1 9 10 38
5/21/1994 Hakeem Olajuwon HOU PHO WCS 7 44 18 33 0 0 1 1 37
5/18/1997 Patrick Ewing NYK MIA ECS 7 44 17 27 0 1 3 3 37
5/13/1999 Scottie Pippen HOU LAL WC1 3 48 12 27 3 5 10 12 37
5/15/2000 Allen Iverson PHI IND ECS 5 46 12 29 2 4 11 12 37
6/15/2001 Allen Iverson PHI LAL FIN 5 45 14 32 3 11 6 8 37
5/4/2003 Chauncey Billups DET ORL EC1 7 42 11 19 3 7 12 12 37
5/5/2005 Tracy McGrady HOU DAL WC1 6 42 14 28 6 10 3 3 37
5/22/2006 Dirk Nowitzki DAL SAS WCS 7 50 11 20 0 1 15 16 37
5/28/2009 LeBron James CLE ORL ECF 5 46 11 24 0 2 15 19 37
5/4/1993 Reggie Miller IND NYK EC1 3 40 14 22 2 3 6 6 36
6/2/1995 Reggie Miller IND ORL ECF 6 35 13 19 6 10 4 4 36
5/23/1999 Shaquille O'Neal LAL SAS WCS 4 45 12 23 0 0 12 23 36
5/2/2003 Jamal Mashburn NOH PHI EC1 6 43 14 27 3 4 5 7 36
5/20/2005 Jason Terry DAL PHO WCS 6 48 13 25 4 7 6 9 36
5/5/2006 Gilbert Arenas WAS CLE EC1 6 53 14 27 4 8 4 8 36
5/17/2006 Tim Duncan SAS DAL WCS 5 44 13 19 0 0 10 15 36
5/22/2006 Elton Brand LAC PHO WCS 7 48 16 26 0 0 4 4 36
5/7/1995 Karl Malone UTA HOU WC1 5 45 10 21 1 2 14 20 35

There's Wade, tied at the top of the list with KJ and (oddly enough) his 2010 series rival Paul Pierce, each of whom scored 46 points. Of course, there's more to the game of basketball than scoring, and that's why John Hollinger developed what he calls "Game Score", which is intended to be a rough measure of a player's productivity for a single game. As you can see, the formula is essentially a far simpler version of his Player Efficiency Rating:

GmSc = PTS + 0.4 * FG - 0.7 * FGA - 0.4*(FTA - FT) + 0.7 * ORB + 0.3 * DRB + STL + 0.7 * AST + 0.7 * BLK - 0.4 * PF - TOV

The scale is similar to that of points scored, i.e., 40 is an outstanding performance, 10 is an average performance, etc. Anyway, here are the top elimination-game performances since 1991 by Game Score:

Date Player Team Opp Rd G# MP FG FGA 3P FT FTA ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS GmSc
6/5/1993 Charles Barkley PHO SEA WCF 7 46 12 20 1 19 22 10 24 1 1 1 1 3 44 45.0
5/3/2002 Paul Pierce BOS PHI EC1 5 44 16 25 8 6 7 1 4 6 1 1 0 1 46 41.6
5/14/2001 Dirk Nowitzki DAL SAS WCS 5 47 14 24 0 14 18 6 18 2 6 1 3 2 42 41.3
5/20/1995 Kevin Johnson PHO HOU WCS 7 42 12 26 1 21 22 1 3 10 1 1 1 3 46 40.0
5/5/1995 Clyde Drexler HOU UTA WC1 4 41 12 18 4 13 14 3 9 6 1 0 1 3 41 39.7
5/1/1997 Anfernee Hardaway ORL MIA EC1 4 48 12 23 4 13 16 3 7 4 4 3 1 4 41 38.1
5/11/2009 Dirk Nowitzki DAL DEN WCS 4 44 14 25 0 16 17 1 13 3 2 1 4 1 44 36.4
5/22/2006 Tim Duncan SAS DAL WCS 7 50 12 24 0 17 23 6 15 6 1 3 3 4 41 36.2
5/22/2006 Dirk Nowitzki DAL SAS WCS 7 50 11 20 0 15 16 2 15 3 1 1 0 3 37 34.9
5/3/2000 Gary Payton SEA UTA WC1 4 42 11 23 3 10 11 2 10 11 6 0 4 4 35 34.8
4/28/2002 Allen Iverson PHI BOS EC1 3 44 10 23 3 19 20 0 5 4 5 0 3 3 42 34.6
6/12/1998 Karl Malone UTA CHI FIN 5 44 17 27 0 5 6 4 9 5 1 1 1 2 39 34.2
4/28/2001 Tracy McGrady ORL MIL EC1 3 50 14 32 0 14 18 0 8 10 3 2 2 3 42 34.2
5/8/1993 Hakeem Olajuwon HOU LAC WC1 5 46 14 27 0 3 3 9 21 3 3 7 3 2 31 33.8
6/1/2005 Amare Stoudemire PHO SAS WCF 5 46 16 32 0 10 11 7 16 2 1 4 3 4 42 33.8
5/18/1997 Patrick Ewing NYK MIA ECS 7 44 17 27 0 3 3 6 17 4 0 2 2 2 37 33.8
5/14/1991 Tim Hardaway GSW LAL WCS 5 51 11 22 1 4 6 0 1 20 5 2 1 3 27 33.7
5/18/2001 Vince Carter TOR PHI ECS 6 43 17 31 4 1 2 3 5 5 4 1 0 3 39 33.4
5/4/2006 Anthony Johnson IND NJN EC1 6 45 16 23 3 5 9 1 5 5 2 0 2 2 40 33.3
5/28/2009 LeBron James CLE ORL ECF 5 46 11 24 0 15 19 3 14 12 1 1 4 3 37 33.3
5/17/2006 Tim Duncan SAS DAL WCS 5 44 13 19 0 10 15 4 12 4 1 3 3 2 36 33.2
4/25/2010 Dwyane Wade MIA BOS EC1 4 43 16 24 5 9 14 0 5 5 2 0 6 4 46 33.0
5/27/2003 Michael Finley DAL SAS WCF 5 44 9 14 1 12 12 1 8 3 5 2 2 3 31 32.9
5/18/2008 LeBron James CLE BOS ECS 7 47 14 29 3 14 19 1 5 6 2 0 2 4 45 32.8
5/1/2009 Dwyane Wade MIA ATL EC1 6 39 11 23 3 16 17 0 5 2 0 2 0 1 41 32.8
6/3/2001 Allen Iverson PHI MIL ECF 7 44 17 33 4 6 7 1 6 7 2 0 2 4 44 32.8
5/18/1997 Tim Hardaway MIA NYK ECS 7 45 12 20 6 8 10 0 3 7 5 0 6 1 38 32.4
5/19/2004 Kevin Garnett MIN SAC WCS 7 46 12 23 1 7 11 1 21 2 4 5 2 1 32 32.3
5/4/2006 Steve Nash PHO LAL WC1 6 46 9 14 1 13 13 0 2 13 0 0 3 1 32 32.1
5/2/1994 Reggie Williams DEN SEA WC1 3 39 11 16 3 6 7 0 6 8 2 2 1 4 31 32.0
5/3/2005 Mike Bibby SAC SEA WC1 5 43 13 24 2 7 8 0 3 10 4 0 2 3 35 31.7
5/17/1992 Brad Daugherty CLE BOS ECS 7 36 9 11 0 10 13 2 9 6 0 3 0 2 28 31.7
5/17/2001 Sam Cassell MIL CHH ECS 6 42 10 16 0 13 15 1 4 11 2 0 3 4 33 31.7
5/30/1996 Karl Malone UTA SEA WCF 6 39 13 22 0 6 9 2 10 7 4 0 1 2 32 31.5
5/18/1995 Hakeem Olajuwon HOU PHO WCS 6 43 13 22 0 4 4 1 8 10 2 5 2 4 30 31.5
4/30/2000 Terrell Brandon MIN POR WC1 3 48 10 16 2 6 6 1 7 12 1 0 1 1 28 31.3
5/18/2007 Amare Stoudemire PHO SAS WCS 6 41 14 28 1 9 10 5 12 0 0 4 0 2 38 31.2
5/18/2008 Paul Pierce BOS CLE ECS 7 44 13 23 4 11 12 1 4 5 2 0 4 4 41 31.2
6/1/2001 Ray Allen MIL PHI ECF 6 43 12 25 9 8 8 0 2 4 3 0 2 4 41 31.1
5/5/1995 Hakeem Olajuwon HOU UTA WC1 4 38 14 22 0 12 15 2 8 3 0 1 2 5 40 31.0
6/2/1995 Reggie Miller IND ORL ECF 6 35 13 19 6 4 4 1 7 2 2 0 2 2 36 31.0
5/17/1992 Michael Jordan CHI NYK ECS 7 42 15 29 0 12 13 3 6 4 2 3 5 3 42 31.0
5/2/1991 Doc Rivers ATL DET EC1 4 42 14 19 0 6 7 3 9 4 0 0 1 2 34 30.8
5/2/2008 Tracy McGrady HOU UTA WC1 6 42 13 26 2 12 18 1 10 5 0 1 1 1 40 30.8
4/29/1997 Anfernee Hardaway ORL MIA EC1 3 47 16 30 1 9 10 1 8 2 2 0 1 4 42 30.6
5/2/2006 Boris Diaw PHO LAL WC1 5 38 7 12 0 11 11 4 10 9 1 0 0 3 25 30.1
5/5/2000 Shaquille O'Neal LAL SAC WC1 5 35 15 24 0 2 7 7 18 4 1 3 3 1 32 29.9
5/3/2005 Peja Stojakovic SAC SEA WC1 5 42 14 25 5 5 5 2 4 4 1 0 0 5 38 29.9
4/30/1997 Kenny Anderson POR LAL WC1 3 41 9 11 3 9 10 1 5 5 2 0 2 3 30 29.7
5/2/2003 Chauncey Billups DET ORL EC1 6 45 11 23 7 11 12 0 4 4 1 0 2 3 40 29.7

Wade drops a bit when you take into account non-scoring factors because he didn't add monster rebounding or assist totals to his 46 points, and he turned the ball over 6 times. Instead, by this metric the top performance in a must-win game since 1991 belongs to none other than Sir Charles, who carried the Suns to the '93 NBA Finals with a ludicrous 44-point, 24-rebound explosion in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals vs. Seattle. In fact, Chuck was so darned good that day that I think he deserves his own embedded YouTube clip of the performance. Enjoy:

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9 Responses to “Best Elimination-Game Performances, 1991-2010”

  1. Mike G Says:

    In the first list (35+ pts), Iverson appears 5 times; nobody else more than 3 times.
    Rather than Game Score, which doesn't account for team defense, why not use single-game Win Shares?
    I noticed DWade with .51 WS after 3 games, and now he has .91 WS :
    .266 WS/48 * 164 Min / 48 = .91

    This would seem to be .41 Win Shares for Game 4.
    Would it be different if calculated for just this game?

  2. Mike G Says:

    Oops, .91 - .51 = .41

    In the Barkley 44-20 game, his opponents, the Sonics, totaled 110 points. So it would seem those 44 pts are not that close in value to Wade's 46 vs the Celtics' 92.
    Like, 50% vs 40%.

    However, Charles' 24 rebounds, vs Seattle's total of 31, is most impressive.
    Against the 2010 average of 41.7 per team, it's (kinda sorta) equivalent to 32.

    Another oddity: In that game --
    http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/199306050PHO.html

    -- the Suns hit 57-64 FT. Yes, that's a one-game total.
    It's by far the most FTA in a playoff game since 1991. Next would be LA vs Ind in Game 2 of the 2000 Finals. Kobe-less Lakes win, Shaq goes 18-39 from the line.

    Next-most FT Made would be Dallas' 49-50 performance vs the Spurs in '03.

    Kemp, Eddie Johnson, and McMillan fouled out in the game 7 loss to Phx.

  3. Mike G Says:

    = Sigh =
    Barkley's game was 44-24
    .91-.51 = .40

  4. Neil Paine Says:

    Here's the WS list:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=5605

  5. Johnny Says:

    I never realized those back to back Penny Hardaway games against the Heat in 1997 were that good. I remember watching them live and being shocked that it was happening to a Pat Riley coached team.

  6. Jason J Says:

    I just remember game 5 of that series where every time Penny Hardaway hit a big shot, Timmy Hardaway came right back and hit a big shot. It's ugly, but it's deadly.

  7. Johnny Says:

    Jason J,

    I'm not sure what you are talking about.

    Timmy was:
    *4/16 for 12 points in game 3
    *5/18 for 16 points in game 4.
    *5/20 for 11 points in game 5.

    14/54 (25.9%) and 13 ppg isn't very good.

    Penny was 36/75 (48%) and 38.7 ppg in games 3-5. He was also 9/22 from 3pt land, 35/42 FT, and averaged 8.3 rpg/4.0 apg/2.3 spg/1.7 bpg. That is why going into 97-98 there was a lot of hype of Penny because he was moving to SG for an entire season. Well, he got hurt and played just 18 games and we all know what happened after that....

  8. Travis Says:

    Dirk Nowitzki appears 3 times in the top ten "Game Scores", proving once again that he is not only one of the best playoff performers of all-time but also one of the most clutch. Dallas may have lost this year when they weren't supposed to(wasn't his fault as he averaged 26.7/8 at 54% FG) and there was the Golden State debacle a few years back(which was his fault), but everyone has their blemishes in the playoffs (except maybe Jordan).

  9. Travis J Says:

    According to Elias Sports Bureau, in the entire history of the NBA, in elimination-games, Dirk Nowitzki has 13 30+ point performances. Only Wilt the Stilt, tied at 13, and Jerry West at 14, have achieved similar results. Chew on that for awhile.

    (btw, how clutch was Logo?!)