The Greatest Individual Losing Playoff Performances in NBA History

The Greatest Individual Losing Playoff Performances in NBA History

by April 25, 2020 0 comments

Sometimes the incredible talent and willpower of one player just isn’t enough to bring home the series victory.

Some of the greatest playoff performances in NBA history have come during losing series, including some that broke NBA records. Here are the greatest individual losing playoff performances. 

Michael Jordan: 1986 Round 1 versus Boston 

43.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.3 steals

Featured Prominently in Ep. 2 of the ESPN documentary series ‘The Last Dance,’ Michael Jordan’s performance in the Bulls first-round series against Boston was something to behold.

Jordan’s Bulls came into the series with a 30-52 record, the second-worst record of any playoff team in NBA history. However, they had been without Jordan for most of the season, who suffered a broken foot early on and only came back with a few games remaining on a minutes restriction. 

With his minutes’ restriction lifted in the playoffs, Jordan went absolutely insane. In Game 1, he scored 49 points, a Bulls playoff record at the time. In Game 2 he outdid himself, scoring a ridiculous 63 points in the Boston Garden, setting an NBA playoff record that still stands today.

Even though the Bulls went on to get swept in three games, Jordan’s performance in this series is seen as the beginning of his true dominance of the sport. 

Gilbert Arenas: 2006 Round 1 versus Cleveland

34.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 43.5 percent from three

During the 2004-2005 season, Gilbert Arenas burst onto the scene, announcing himself as one of the best guards in basketball. He averaged over 25 points-per-game while leading the Washington Wizards to their first playoff appearance in eight years.

The next season he came back and played even better, putting up 30 points and six assists a night. 

Even though his individual play was great, the Wizards had a mediocre regular season, going just 42-40, good enough for the fifth-seed in the Eastern Conference. They were up against the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by a young 21-year-old phenom named LeBron James. 

Arenas matched James bucket-for-bucket throughout the series, scoring a wide array of spectacular baskets and long-range shots. Game 5 in Cleveland stands out as one of the best playoff duels of the 2000s. In a 121-120 overtime thriller, the Cavaliers came out victorious, managing to hold off Arenas, who put up 44 points on over 60 percent shooting.

The Wizards would go on to lose in six but this still stands as one of the defining moments of the guard’s career. 

LeBron James 2009 Eastern Conference Finals versus Orlando

38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.2 blocks

By nearly every advanced metric, LeBron James’ 2008-2009 season was his best. His value over replacement player (VORP) rating was the second-highest of all time, only behind Michael Jordan’s 1987-1988 season. He won the first of four MVP awards and led the Cavaliers to a franchise-record 66 wins. 

James’ Cleveland team would roll through the first two rounds of the playoffs, only to come up against the Orlando Magic in the eastern conference finals. The Magic were led by Dwight Howard, the best center in the league at the time and were an elite defensive team with a lot of length. The Magic used this length to their advantage, shutting down nearly everyone on the Cavs offense, everyone except LeBron James. 

LeBron put up monster numbers for the series but it just wasn’t enough to get over the hump. During the Cavs losses in Games 1, 3, and 4, James scored 134 points, an average of 44 points-per-game.

He also buried the game-winner in Game 2 as time expired to give the Cavaliers one of their two wins. James and Cleveland would go on to lose the series in six games, wasting what might have been his best-ever playoff series. 

Jerry West: 1969 Finals versus Boston

37.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 43.9 minutes

Jerry West, the NBA logo, had several incredible performances in the NBA Finals that tragically came up short. These losses were almost entirely at the hand of Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics.

The 1968-69 season was set to be Bill Russell’s last and was also Jerry West’s last chance at getting one on his rival. The stage was set when the franchises met for the sixth time in the Finals.

West started hot, scoring 53 points in the Lakers game one victory. From there, he never cooled off, putting up 40 points in five of the seven games. The series went all the way to seven games, and the finale was a back and forth affair, which ended in a two-point victory for the Celtics.

At the end of the game, instead of celebrating with his teammates, Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell embraced Jerry West, sympathizing with a player who gave it his all in the quest for a championship but came up short.

West had such an incredible series that he became the only player to ever receive the Finals MVP award as a member of the losing team.

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