NBA Playoffs 2011: Dirk Nowitzki and 15 Other Dominant Playoff Games Since 1990

William JohnsonCorrespondent IIIMay 25, 2011

NBA Playoffs 2011: Dirk Nowitzki and 15 Other Dominant Playoff Games Since 1990

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    To say Dirk Nowitzki has been perfect in the 2011 Western Conference finals might be a slanderous understatement.

    With two 40-plus-point games, a myriad of off-balance jumpers and juke moves, and free-throw shooting that puts Rick Barry to shame, Dirk Nowitzki, claimed to be one of the top 10 greatest players of all time by his coach, is drawing comparisons to Larry Bird and is having the playoff round of his life.

    Dirk has always been a consistent basketball monster, but part of that consistency was losing in the big games. But luck, so far, seems to be on Dirk's side, as he is leading his Mavericks team to the promised land.

    Dirk stands one win away from his second NBA Finals trip and five wins from his first ring. And by dispatching the Lakers in a four-game sweep, the Mavericks, and the nation, are starting to believe those five wins are possible.

    Dirk's Game 1 performance against the Thunder set the tone for what has been a series dominated, when it counts, by Dallas. His performance can't possibly be judged so quickly after it happened but it already makes the short list as one of the greatest played in recent playoff memory.

    In honor of that epic performance (stat line was: 48 points on 12-of-15 FG, 24-of-24 FTs, six rebounds, four assists and four blocks), here are 15 other classic playoff performances that wowed us all.

     

    Note: I wouldn't feel justified in citing memorable playoff performances if I have no actual memory of them. Therefore, I have provided memorable moments from my history of watching basketball (thus performances that impressed me) and selected 1990 as the start date. So is this "all time" and truly historical? No, it's my opinion during my life, but there have been plenty of performances since 1990 that remain immortal and memorable and I provide the 15 best for that era. Also, this list is in chronological order, not ranking order.

Michael Jordan: 1992 NBA Finals, Game 1

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    Victim

    The Portland Trail Blazers

     

    The Situation

    The Bulls began their first title defense by facing a Blazers team stacked with talented names such as Clyde Drexler, Clifford Robinson, Terry Porter, and Danny Ainge.

     

    The Stat Line

    39 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 16/27 FG (59%), 6/10 3FG (60%)

     

    Analysis

    Also known as "The Shrug," this was Jordan sticking it to any critics he had left by scoring 35 points in the first half (a record) and making an incredible six threes in said half. His response: a nonchalant shrug.

    By the end of the third quarter the Bulls were ahead 104-68 and MJ's job was done.

Michael Jordan: 1993 NBA Finals, Game 4

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    Victim

    The Phoenix Suns

     

    The Situation

    After stealing Games 1 and 2 on the road in Phoenix, the Suns, led by Charles Barkley, got their revenge and stole an away game of their own in Game 3's triple-overtime thriller. Jordan didn't want this series tied going into Game 5.

     

    The Stat Line

    55 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 21/37 FG (56%)

     

    Analysis

    Jordan's relentless pursuit of a win brought him close to the 60-point mark (again) and put the Bulls in a comfortable position leading into Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead.

    Oddly, the Bulls would lose another home game in Game 5 and finish off the series, dramatically, in Phoenix.

Reggie Miller: 1995 Eastern Conference Semis, Game 1

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    Victim

    The New York Knicks

     

    The Situation

    After being ousted by the Finals-bound Knicks in '94, Reggie Miller was looking for revenge. What better way is there to set the tone for the series than to not only beat the Knicks but to do so like a stone-cold assassin?

     

    The Stat Line

    31 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 3/7 3FG (42%), 14/15 FT (93%)

     

    Analysis

    While not a wild stat line, Miller's immensely improbable eight-point, nine-second sequence (a three-point shot, immediately stole the inbounds pass and hit another three, then a few seconds later was fouled and sank both FTs) saved Indiana from going down 0-1 in the series and, simultaneously, created a legend that Knicks fans today are still cursing in their sleep.

Hakeem Olajuwon: 1995 Western Conference Semis, Game 6

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    Victim

    The Phoenix Suns

     

    The Situation

    Looking to tie up the best-of-seven series at 3-3 (after being down 3-1), Olajuwon and his underrated defending champions needed to make a statement and win Game 6 in order to get to an improbable Game 7 back in Phoenix.

     

    The Stat Line

    30 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks, 2 steals, 13/22 FG (59%), 4/4 FT (100%)

     

    Analysis

    Olajuwon dominated the way Hall of Fame centers do—with just about doing everything in his power to will his team to victory. He shot at an incredible percentage, grabbed rebounds, got his teammates involved and, of course, caused havoc on defense.

    Mario Elie is probably most remembered for his Game 7 performance but it was the steady leader in Olajuwon that got Houston the opportunity to make history.

Michael Jordan: 1997 NBA Finals, Game 5

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    Victim

    The Utah Jazz

     

    The Situation

    Facing a physically debilitating flu virus and a tied series (at 2-2) in Utah, the defending champion Bulls looked to be in serious trouble.

     

    The Stat Line

    38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, 1 flu

     

    Analysis

    You never doubt the greatest of all time. Jordan , in his career, has scored more points, grabbed more rebounds, handed out more assists, got more steals, and swatted more shots then he did in this game. . .but to do what he did with the flu, a virus that wipes out all your energy, on the road in a must-win game against one of the greatest teams never to win a title?! Wow. That's the stuff of legends.

Kobe Bryant: 2001 Western Semis, Game 4

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    Victim

    The Sacramento Kings

     

    The Situation

    Looking to maintain a perfect playoff record (7-0) and get to their second straight Western Conference finals, the Lakers needed a big performance from Kobe to finish off the plucky Kings.

     

    The Stat Line

    49 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal, 18/27 (66%), 5/9 3FG (55%), 8/9 FT (88%)


    Analysis

    Finding a dominating Kobe game is tough. He has been so consistently incredible in the playoffs that there aren't any real "Name Games" (like "The Shrug").

    But taking over with incredible shooting and hitting close to 50 points, Kobe's personal destruction of the Kings (not the last time) was just an over-exaggerated example of Kobe's playoff brilliance.

Allen Iverson: 2001 NBA Finals, Game 1

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    Victim

    The Los Angeles Lakers

     

    The Situation

    Finding themselves in their first NBA Finals since 1983, the 76ers had to go up against the 11-0 Lakers on their home floor.

     

    The Stat Line

    48 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 9/9 FT (100%)

     

    Analysis

    If the NBA Finals were a one-off, Iverson's complete dominance of the Lakers in Game 1 (the only loss for the eventual champion Lakers that year) would have been even more incredible.

    However, you have to win four.

    But in that one 76ers win, Iverson showed why he was a superstar. He almost single-handedly took down the virtually invincible Lakers...if only for a while.

    The 76ers' 1-0 series lead was the only series lead a team had on the early-2000s Lakers dynasty.

Shaquille O'Neal: 2001 NBA Finals, Game 2

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    Victim

    The Philadelphia 76ers

     

    The Situation

    Embarrassed on their home floor by Allen Iverson and the 76ers in Game 1 of the Finals, the Lakers looked to rebound in a big way.

     

    The Stat Line

    28 points, 20 rebounds (8 offensive), 9 assists, 8 blocks, 1 steal, 12/19 FG (63%)

     

    Analysis

    Shaq-Daddy and the Lakers made sure the Game 1 loss to the 76ers was their only loss in the playoffs for the rest of their run. And that started with Shaq's mind-bending performance in Game 2.

    Iverson's Game 1 gets a lot of the buzz (and the memory) but Shaq's near-perfect Game 2 made sure the Lakers were on to title No. 2 in the Shaq era.

Paul Pierce: 2002 Eastern First Round, Game 5

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    Victim

    The Philadelphia 76ers

     

    The Situation

    In only his third year in the league, and his first in the playoffs, Paul Pierce needed to establish himself as an all-time Celtics franchise player by getting Boston past the first round for the first time since 1992. The Celtics found themselves in a decisive Game 5 versus the defending Eastern Conference champ 76ers.

     

    The Stat Line

    46 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, 16/25 FG (64%), 8/10 3FG (80%), 6/7 FT (85%)

     

    Analysis

    What a way to start a playoff legacy in Beantown. After going up 2-0 in the best-of-five series and then letting two go to be tied 2-2, Pierce made a statement by shooting the living crap out of the ball.

    The future NBA Finals MVP got his Boston squad past the first round since 1992 with this dominating performance. The overachieving Celtics even got to the Eastern Conference finals—a feat they hadn't done since 1988 and wouldn't repeat until 2008.

Tim Duncan: 2003 NBA Finals, Game 6

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    Victim

    The New Jersey Nets

     

    The Situation

    The solid Nets refused to repeat their 0-4 embarrassment of 2002 when they made a second straight NBA Finals in 2003

    The Nets had fought the Spurs tooth and nail, trading off games to tie the series 2-2 before losing Game 5. Tim Duncan and company, who had come under relative fire for their 1999 championship (many thought there should be an asterisk since they played the No. 8 Knicks and there was a shorter season), needed to finish Jason Kidd and the Nets off for good.

     

    The Stat Line

    21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, 8 blocks

     

    Analysis

    This near quadruple-double basically put to bed any concessions about Duncan's dominance and the Spurs existence as a title holder.

Kevin Garnett: 2004 Western Conference Semis, Game 7

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    Victim

    The Sacramento Kings

     

    The Situation

    After seven straight first-round exits, Kevin Garnett, the newly minted MVP of the league, needed to finish off the Sacramento Kings who stood in the way of KG's first conference finals appearance and only his second series win.

     

    The Stat Line

    32 points, 21 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 steals, 12/23 FG (52%)

     

    Analysis

    KG's second series victory in his career was led by a powerful and dominant Game 7 performance against a very good Kings team.

    KG would meet the Lakers in the next round, an opponent he would become intimately familiar with much later in the decade.

Dwyane Wade: 2006 NBA Finals, Game 3

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    Victim

    The Dallas Mavericks

     

    The Situation

    Facing a possible 0-3 deficit in the best-of-seven NBA Finals, D-Wade needed to show the reason why he was called "Flash" and lift his team to a much-needed victory.

     

    The Stat Line

    42 points, 13 rebounds, 2 steals, 14/26 FG (53%)

     

    Analysis

    Though Wade would continue his incredible shooting and high point totals for the rest of the series, this was the game that changed it all for the legacies of so many.

    Wade's outburst led to a Game 3 victory and the Heat never looked back. The 2006 championship was theirs and Wade, as leader, provided the spark.

LeBron James: 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 5

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    Victim

    The Detroit Pistons

     

    The Situation

    At one point down 0-2 in the series, the LeBron-led Cavs stormed their way to a series tie going into Game 5. Young James, in his second year in the playoffs and with expectations of an entire cursed city on his shoulders, needed to put Cleveland ahead 3-2.

     

    The Stat Line

    48 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 18/33 FG (54%), 2/3 3FG (66%), 10/14 FT (71%)

     

    Analysis

    Besides the ridiculous box score, LeBron scored 25 straight points at one point and 29 of the final 30 points for the Cavs.

    LeBron eventually led Cleveland to its first ever NBA Finals. After getting swept in that series, James went through some mental blocks in pressure situations for a few years, but appears to be regaining the mojo he displayed in 2007 while playing for the Heat in 2011.

Kobe Bryant: 2008 Western First Round, Game 2

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    Victim

    The Denver Nuggets

     

    The Situation

    The Kobe-led Lakers were looking to finally make some moves in the postseason and it mattered most, of course, to Kobe. His legacy was at stake, so there was no messing around. Kobe needed to put his foot down and dominate in Game 2 of the best-of-seven first-round series against the No. 8 seed Nuggets.

     

    The Stat Line

    48 points, 16 rebounds (9 offensive), 3 assists, 2 steals, one block, 15/29 (51%), 17/19 FT (89%)


    Analysis

    Though Kobe's title quest would end in the NBA Finals in 2008, this Game 2 performance in the first round was a good start to what would be a run of two titles and three conference titles for Kobe as leader.

Rajon Rondo: 2009 Eastern First Round, Game 2

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    Victim

    The Chicago Bulls

     

    The Situation

    Fighting without Kevin Garnett, the Celtics needed all they could get from the rest of their 60-win squad to defeat the crafty and pesky Bulls. Rajon Rondo, fresh off a year as the starting point guard of a champion, needed to take the reins for Boston, which had lost Game 1 in OT.

     

    The Stat Line

    19 points, 16 assists, 12 rebounds (7 offensive), 5 steals

     

    Analysis

    What is often considered one of the greatest seven-game series ever played (not one, two or three but four OT games, including two singles, one double and one triple OT), Rajon Rondo went toe to toe with future MVP Derrick Rose in a must-win Game 2 and helped Boston squeak out a three-point win.