The Top 75 Players in NBA Finals History
Updated: Jun 19, 2022
The 2022 NBA Finals are underway, and, with the NBA celebrating their 75th Anniversary throughout the season, it inspired me to take on the long and tedious project of ranking the Top 75 performers in NBA Finals history. So, below is my personal, unscientific ranking of the Top 75 performers throughout the first 75 NBA Finals series (this year is actually the 76th season in NBA history - the celebration was supposed to be in 2021, but was pushed back a year due to COVID - so we have 75 players for 75 years).
Quick things to note before we start:
1. This list is a ranking of players strictly based upon how they performed in the Finals. It is not the top 75 players who played in the NBA Finals, it is the 75 greatest performers in the NBA Finals.
2. I was trying to get this article done and posted in time before these Finals started, but was off by a few days. Therefore, for the four Warriors on this list playing in the ongoing series, all of their stats are as of before the 2022 Finals.
3. All stats are via Basketball-Reference, StatMuse, and NBA.com
4. Once again, these rankings are solely based on my opinion. There was no scientific formula, although I tried to personally weigh team success, individual success, stats, era, strength of opponent, etc. Also, keep in mind that I was born in 1999 and my first firsthand memories of the Finals were in 2006, so apologies in advance for any generational oversight. I tried my best to remove my inherent recency bias.
Finals Appearances Key:
Bold = Won the Series
* = Finals MVP
Non-Bold = Lost the Series
75) Don Nelson
1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976
8.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.1 APG, 45% FG, 74% FT, 19.9 MPG
1969 Game 7:
16 PTS, 6 REB, 6-12 FG
Nelson put up a more-than-respectable 16-6 line in Game 7, but most notably hit the dagger which clinched one of the greatest NBA Finals series of all-time for the Celtics.
Before he became one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, Don Nelson was pulling off the rare feat of playing in the Finals with both the Lakers and the Celtics. Nelson and the Lakers lost the 1965 Finals to the Celtics. He averaged 7 Points and 5 Rebounds in the series. After the Finals, Nelson signed with the Celtics in free agency. From there, he won five titles, with three of the Finals victories coming against the Lakers. His best series was in 1968, when he averaged 14 Points and 8 Rebounds per Game while shooting 59% from the field. He hit the dagger, as previously mentioned, to clinch the 1969 Finals. In that series, he averaged 12 Points and 6 Rebounds per Game. Nelson was also a key contributor in the Finals that the Celtics won in 1966, 1974, and 1976. He ranks 16th all-time in Finals Games played and 33rd in Rebounds.
74) Chris Bosh
2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
14.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 46% FG, 28% 3PT, 80% FT, 36.6 MPG
2013 Game 6:
10 PTS, 11 REB, 3 STL, 2 BLK, 5-12 FG
Facing elimination in the 2013 Finals, the Heat needed Bosh to do all of the dirty work. He did exactly that in Game 6 with a double-double, three steals and a pair of blocks, with one of the blocks being the most important of his career; stuffing a potential game-tying Danny Green three in overtime to force a Game 7. Of course, he also grabbed the offensive rebound which set up Ray Allen’s overtime-forcing shot.
Playing in the Finals for four-straight years from 2011 to 2014, Chris Bosh had plenty of opportunity to get much higher on this list. He did average 19 Points and 7 Rebounds in the 2011 Finals, but the Heat lost in stunning fashion. In 2012, Bosh was fantastic, averaging 15 Points and 9 Rebounds with 45-40-88 shooting splits, as the Heat defeated the Thunder in five games. In Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, Bosh made some of the biggest plays of his career (see above). However, with a chance to add to his Finals legend, Bosh went 0-5 with 0 Points in Game 7. Lucky for him, the Heat won and nobody remembers his O-fer. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t slip my mind, so it hurt him when it came to climbing up this list. In the 2014 Finals, Bosh did average 14 Points on 55% shooting, but the Heat were mostly non-competitive in the 4-1 series loss to San Antonio. Bosh’s biggest contribution (aside from the block and offensive rebound in 2013 Game 6) in his Finals career was his ability to stretch the floor and allow the Heat to play small-ball, something that completely changed the way basketball is played in the NBA to this day.
73) Elvin Hayes
1975, 1978, 1979
20.5 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 44% FG, 65% FT, 40.5 MPG
1978 Game 7:
12 PTS, 8 REB, 5-10 FG
Most of Hayes’ biggest Finals performances came in losses, but he did come through in the biggest game of his career. His 12 Points and 8 Rebounds helped the Bullets win Game 7 on the road in Seattle, as Hayes won the title which had been eluding him.
Elvin Hayes basically averaged 21 Points and 12 Rebounds per Game in his Finals career, which, in 16 games, should’ve been enough to at least crack the top-60 on this list. However, his team’s record in those 16 games was just 5-11. The stats from Hayes were great, but, unless I am missing something, he didn’t really have any clutch moments or big games. However, I will commend the consistency as, per game, he averaged 21 Points in 1975 and 1978, and 20 Points in 1979, 12 Rebounds in 1978 and 1979, and 11 Rebounds in 1975, and then 2 Blocks in 1978 and 1979, with 2.8 Blocks in 1975. In Finals history, he ranks 6th all-time in Blocks per Game (13th in total Blocks), and 15th in Rebounds per Game.
72) Dave DeBusschere
1970, 1972, 1973
15.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 43% FG, 69% FT, 35.9 MPG
1973 Game 4:
33 PTS, 14 REB, 13-21 FG
Leading the 1973 Finals 2-1, the Knicks got a huge boost from DeBusschere, who led the team with 33 points and 14 rebounds.
Dave DeBusschere was an unsung hero on the great Knicks teams of the early 1970s. In the Knicks’ 1970 NBA Finals victory, DeBusschere averaged 19 Points and 13 Rebounds per Game, providing great support for stars Willis Reed and Walt Frazier. DeBusschere struggled in the Knicks 1972 Finals loss, averaging just 10 Points and 13 Rebounds per Game on 38% shooting, but returned to form with 16 Points and 12 Rebounds per Game in 1973, as the Knicks reclaimed their title. His 12.4 Rebounds per Game in the Finals were good enough for 12th most all-time.
71) Maurice Cheeks
1980, 1982, 1983
14.8 PPG, 7.3 APG, 2.7 RPG, 51% FG, 69% FT, 36.7 MPG
1980 Game 2:
23 PTS, 10 AST, 6 STL, 11-13 FG
While Philadelphia famously lost the 1980 Finals, Cheeks had a huge Game 2. The 76ers’ Point Guard made 11 of his 13 shots, dished out 10 assists and tied what was then the Finals record of 6 steals in one game. His efforts helped lead the Sixers to a tight road victory in Los Angeles.
Maurice Cheeks was pretty consistent in his three Finals appearances. He averaged 14-7-3 with 2.5 Steals per Game in 1980, 15-9-3 with 2.0 Steals per Game in 1982, and 15-6-2 with 2.8 Steals per Game in 1983. The 76ers lost in 1980 and 1982, but, led by Cheeks running the offense, swept the Lakers (the team that beat them in 1980 and 1982) in the 1983 Finals. Cheeks’ 2.4 Steals per Game in the Finals rank 1st among players with 10 or more games played. His 7.3 Assists per Game rank 10th.
70) Byron Scott
1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1991
11.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 45% FG, 25% 3PT, 75% FT, 30.5 MPG
1988 Game 7:
21 PTS, 3 REB, 7-12 FG
While James Worthy’s Game 7 heroics are what everybody remembers most from the 1988 Finals, Byron Scott also stepped up in the winner-take-all game. He was second on the Lakers with 21 Points, and made 7 of 12 shots while dealing with Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas (still dangerous despite his ankle injury) on defense.
Byron Scott was a great role player in the Finals for the Showtime Lakers, but he probably only sneaks onto this list due to what he did in 1988. In the 1988 Finals, Scott averaged 19-5-2 on 48-46-77 shooting splits in 40.1 Minutes per Game. He was especially huge, as noted, in the Game 7. That series was a bit of an outlier, as he averaged 11 Points per Game in the Lakers’ 1985 and 1987 Finals victories. In 1984, his first Finals, Scott played just 15 Minutes per Game, and in 1991, his last Finals, he averaged just 4.5 Points per Game, got hurt, and missed Game 5. Both series resulted in losses for the Lakers. It is also worth noting that the Lakers were swept in the 1989 Finals, a series that Scott missed due to injury. Scott ranks 19th all-time in Finals Steals, and 34th in Games played.
69) Jason Terry
20.0 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.1 RPG, 48% FG, 35% 3PT, 74% FT, 36.2 MPG
2011 Game 6:
27 PTS, 3 REB, 11-16 FG, 3-7 3PT
In a series featuring Dirk Nowitzki and the first year of the Miami Heat Big 3, Jason Terry stole the show in the closeout game. On the road in Miami, Terry came off the bench red-hot with 19 Points on 8-10 shooting in the first half. He finished with 27 Points on 11-16 shooting, and the Mavericks won their first title in franchise history.
If we’re discussing strictly role players, I’d put Terry’s two Finals appearances up against a lot of guys. The Mavericks lost the 2006 Finals to the Heat in disappointing fashion, but Terry was a bright spot averaging 22-4-2 on 48% shooting. However, he did fall flat in Game 6, shooting 7-25 from the field (and 2-11 from three) as the Mavericks were eliminated. Terry was able to get his revenge on Miami in 2011, as he averaged 18 Points per Game off-the-bench in the Mavericks’ six-game series win. His big 2011 series was highlighted by the closeout Game 6 (see above).
68) Jason Kidd
2002, 2003, 2011
15.4 PPG, 7.8 APG, 5.8 RPG, 39% FG, 33% 3PT, 77% FT, 41.1 MPG
2011 Game 5:
13 PTS, 6 AST, 3 STL, 3-5 3PT
Kidd’s best statistical games in the Finals came in 2002 and 2003 with the Nets, but the 2011 Mavericks don’t win the title without his veteran leadership and experience. The 38-year-old played 40 minutes of high-IQ basketball on both sides of the floor as the Mavericks won a pivotal Game 5 over the Heat.
Jason Kidd’s Nets teams were completely overmatched in the 2002 (swept by the Lakers) and 2003 (lost in six to San Antonio) Finals, but he still put up 21-10-7 and 20-8-6, respectively, in those series. Nearly a decade later, in the 2011 Finals, at the age of 38, Kidd averaged 8-6-5 on 43% shooting from three as his Mavericks upset the Heat. Kidd’s impact in that series, especially on defense, and obviously from a leadership perspective, cannot be overstated. Without Kidd, there is no way the Mavericks recover from being down 2-1. In Finals history, he ranks 8th all-time in Assists per Game, and 26th in total Assists.
67) Andrew Toney
24.4 PPG, 7.0 APG, 2.5 RPG, 49% FG, 86% FT, 37.4 MPG
1982 Game 5:
31 PTS, 8 AST, 13-18 FG
The 76ers ended up losing the 1982 Finals in 6 to the Lakers, but Toney helped them fight off elimination in Game 5. He led the team with 31 points and had an incredibly efficient 13-18 shooting night.
Andrew Toney, also known as “The Boston Strangler,” did a lot of his Postseason damage against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but he was pretty good in the Finals against the Lakers too. Toney averaged 26-8-3 on 53% shooting in the 76ers six-game series loss to Los Angeles in 1982. Toney, who averaged 22-6-2 in the series, avenged their loss from the year prior with a sweep of the Lakers in the 1983 Finals. Toney ranks 11th in Finals Assists per Game, and 17th in Points per Game.
66) Danny Green
2013, 2014, 2019, 2020
9.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, 42% FG, 42% 3PT, 86% FT, 27.2 MPG
2013 Game 5:
24 PTS, 6 REB, 3 BLK, 6-10 3PT
A few years before Stephen Curry and the Warriors completely changed the way that NBA teams and fans alike look at three-point shooting, we had Danny Green’s record-breaking 2013 Finals. I can remember being in awe of the fact that Green, on the sport’s biggest stage, was actually taking and making a ton of threes. The best example of this came in Game 5 as Green made 6 of his 10 attempts from three (two games after he went 7 of 9) and the Spurs took a 3-2 series lead with the sharpshooter looking like the Finals MVP favorite.
Danny Green is one of four players (LeBron James, Robert Horry, John Salley) who has won an NBA Championship with three different teams. He broke onto the Finals scene in 2013 when he got red-hot from three as the Spurs went up 3-2 on the Heat. As I mentioned above, he legitimately looked like the Finals MVP. Then, in Games 6 and 7, his shooting completely fell apart as the series slipped away from the Spurs. Green went 1 for 7 from the field (1 of 5 from three) in Game 6, and 1 for 12 from the field (1 of 6 from three) in Game 7. So much happened in the epic series that everybody kind of forgot how cold he got. Also, he was so hot in the first five games that he still finished the series averaging 14 Points per Game on 55% shooting from three. Green never reached those 2013 heights again, but he did win a title with the Spurs in 2014 (shooting 45% from three in the Finals), with the Raptors in 2019 (he made 6 of 10 threes in the Raptors’ big Game 3 road victory), and with the Lakers in 2020. He ranks 4th all-time in Three-Pointers made in the Finals, and is 23rd in 3PT%.
65) Danny Ainge
1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1992, 1993
10.4 PPG, 4.1 APG, 2.6 RPG, 47% FG, 42% 3PT, 76% FT, 28.3 MPG
1986 Game 6:
19 PTS, 4 AST, 2 STL, 7-9 FG
Ainge had a handful of big Finals moments, I went with his 19-point performance to close out the Rockets in Game 6 of the 1986 Finals. Ainge stepped up as the third-option behind Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and even had as many points as Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets’ leading scorer in the game.
Danny Ainge was a fantastic role player for the Celtics in their 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987 Finals appearances. He won two titles (1984 and 1986), and had multiple big Finals games in support of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Dennis Johnson. His best Finals came in 1986 when he averaged 15-6-4 with 2.5 Steals per Game and shot 56% from the field in the Celtics’ victory over the Rockets. Ainge is best remembered as a Celtic, and rightfully so, but he made two more Finals appearances in the early 1990s. With the Trail Blazers in 1992, Ainge averaged 10 Points per Game and shot just 4 of 17 from three in their six-game loss to the Bulls. The following year, Ainge squared off with the Bulls again, this time with the Phoenix Suns. He made 8 of his 12 threes this time, in 27 Minutes per Game, but his hopes for a third championship were dashed by Chicago once again. Ainge is sneakily high on multiple Finals leaderboards, including; Steals (12th), Assists (18th), Games (18th), Three-Pointers (22nd), and Points (41st).
64) Kyrie Irving
2015, 2016, 2017
27.7 PPG, 4.2 APG, 4.2 RPG, 47% FG, 40% 3PT, 93% FT, 39.9 MPG
2016 Game 7:
26 PTS, 6 REB, 10-23 FG
It was tough to not pick Irving’s 2016 Game 5 where he scored 41 points on 17-24 shooting to start the Cavaliers’ 3-1 series comeback, but when you make a game-winner in Game 7 of the Finals, that has to be the case. It is especially the case when the shot caps a historic 3-1 comeback and comes in a game where Irving scored 17 of his 26 points in the second half.
The 2016 Finals is obviously what stands out for Kyrie Irving. He averaged 27-4-4 with 2.1 Steals per Game on 47-41-94 shooting splits. He also had 41 Points in an elimination game and hit one of the biggest shots in league history with the Game 7 game-winner. He was truly special in that series. He was almost as special in the 2017 Finals, averaging 29-4-4 with 47-42-90 splits, but his Cavaliers were defeated in five by the Warriors. The big what if for Irving is if he doesn’t get hurt in overtime of Game 1 in the 2015 Finals. Irving missed the rest of the series, and the Cavaliers lost in six. If Irving doesn’t get hurt, the Cavaliers may have won the series, and then he would have been much higher on this list.
63) Wes Unseld
1971, 1975, 1978*, 1979
11.3 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 4.1 APG, 47% FG, 59% FT, 41.2 MPG
1978 Game 7:
15 PTS, 9 REB, 6 AST, 4-8 FG
Having to play Game 7 on the road in Seattle, it looked like Wes Unseld was going to lose in the Finals for the third time. However, that wasn’t the case as Unseld’s 15-9-6 performance in 45 minutes helped the Bullets win the title on the road.
Wes Unseld is the lowest ranked Finals MVP on this list. The 11-14-4 average is great, and the Finals MVP (even though it came as he averaged just 9-12-4) is too, but Unseld’s overall record in Finals games was just 5-15. His team was swept twice (1971 and 1975), he lost in five in 1979, and it took a road Game 7 victory in 1978 to avoid a 0-4 series record. On a positive note, Unseld ranks 6th all-time in Finals Rebounds per Game and 16th in total Rebounds.
62) Dennis Rodman
1988, 1989, 1990, 1996, 1997, 1998
4.9 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 48% FG, 56% FT, 27.8 MPG
1996 Game 6:
9 PTS, 19 REB, 5 AST, 3 STL
As someone who was born the year after Rodman played in his sixth and final NBA Finals series, it was tough for me to pick a standout Rodman game because so much of his success came in areas that don’t show up in the box score. I settled on 1996 Game 6 because the Bulls clinched the title, he had 11 offensive rebounds, and he held Shawn Kemp to just 18 points.
As I mentioned before, so much of Dennis Rodman’s greatness can only be appreciated by actually watching him play. Therefore, he may be way too low on this list (and if that is the case, I apologize). What I do know is that he definitely isn’t too high. With six Finals appearances and five championships, and the fact that teams were willing to ignore all of the headaches that he caused, it is clear that he made a major impact on winning. In the Finals, he ranks 14th all-time in Rebounds, 28th in Games, and 33rd in Steals.
61) Michael Cooper
1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989
10.3 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.9 RPG, 45% FG, 38% 3PT, 81% FT, 30.6 MPG
1987 Game 2:
21 PTS, 9 AST, 3 STL, 6-7 3PT
Cooper, one of the best role players in NBA history, had a lot of big Finals games. The one that stood out most to me was his 21-Point, 9-Assist, 6-three-point performance off the bench in the Lakers’ Game 2 141-122 drubbing of the Celtics in 1987.
One of the best assets on Cooper’s Finals resume is his laundry list of clutch performances. He never blew anybody away with a 30-plus point game, but all of his solid, efficient games made it very hard for me to pick a “signature moment.” Other than 1988 (when he shot 9-44 from the field and 3-20 from three), Cooper was great in every Finals that he played in during the 1980s. In the Finals, he ranks 7th all-time in Steals, 10th in Games, 14th in Assists, 15th in Three-Pointers, 16th in Minutes, and 32nd in Points.
60) Klay Thompson
2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
18.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 45% FG, 41% 3PT, 82% FT, 36.8 MPG
2019 Game 6:
30 PTS, 5 REB, 2 STL, 8-12 FG
Down 3-2 against the Toronto Raptors, the Warriors needed “Game 6 Klay” to show up and keep their season alive. That looked like exactly what was going to happen as Thompson had 30 points on 8 of 12 shooting in just 32 minutes. However, late in the 3rd quarter, Thompson landed awkwardly after getting fouled on a dunk attempt and tore his ACL. After being helped off the court, he somehow returned from the locker room to shoot the two free throws (which he made, of course). The craziest part is that he even wanted to stay in on defense. Unfortunately, he came out of the game after the free throws and the Warriors fell in the 4th quarter without him.
I came into this project thinking Klay Thompson was going to be right on the bubble to even get on the list. For whatever reason, I feel like I remember far more “bad” Klay Finals games than good ones. That is clearly not the case as, across five series, Thompson has averaged 18.8 Points per Game on 41% shooting from three. His 14-point game (6-17 from the field, 2-10 from three) in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals is a big blemish, but aside from that, he’s been pretty consistent. He averaged 16 Points per Game in the 2015, 2017, and 2018 Finals, all Warriors wins. His best Finals were in 2019, where he averaged 26 Points per Game on 54-59-88 splits. However, he missed Game 3 of that series due to injury, and tore his ACL in the third quarter of Game 6. Like his three teammates that we’ll get to later in the article, Klay will soon be able to shoot up this list.
59) Paul Pierce
19.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.5 APG, 44% FG, 40% 3PT, 84% FT, 39.3 MPG
2008 Game 2:
28 PTS, 8 AST, 9-16 FG, 4-4 3PT
The right answer here is probably Game 1 of the 2008 series where Pierce went from injured, to a wheelchair, to back on court in a span of just a few minutes, but since then Pierce has admitted he just needed a bathroom break, so I’m not rewarding the fake theatrics. However, he was amazing in the following game hitting all four of his threes and scoring 28 points as the Celtics took a 2-0 series lead over the rival Lakers.
I’ll get to it more later on, but I don’t think Paul Pierce deserved the 2008 Finals MVP. He would still be on this list without it, because he did average 20-5-5 on 44-40-84 splits in 13 Finals games, but it would be towards the bottom. Pierce was very good in the Celtics’ 2008 victory (22-5-6, 43-39-83 Splits), just not the Finals MVP, in my opinion. In 2010, he was solid, but shot just 5-15 in the Celtics’ Game 7 loss to the Lakers. Overall, Pierce’s two Finals trips were good, but not great, so the Finals MVP helps his ranking a lot. Then again, you either hate Paul Pierce, or you’re a Celtics fan… and I’m a Knicks fan. So, maybe my bias seeped in too much here.
58) Satch Sanders
1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969
10.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 46% FG, 73% FT, 26.2 MPG
1961 Game 4:
22 PTS, 9 REB, 10-14 FG
Sanders was a crucial role player for the Celtics’ 1960s dynasty. Arguably his brightest moment came as a rookie in 1961 as he scored 22 points (tied for the team-high) in the Celtics’ Game 4 road victory.
Tom “Satch” Sanders was never a star in the NBA, but he won eight championships and had multiple big Finals series. In his first six Finals appearances (all Celtics victories), Sanders averaged 12.5 Points per Game and 7.7 Rebounds per Game. He added two more rings in 1968 and 1969, but played a very small role in those series. Overall, Sanders makes the list due to his 8-0 Finals record and because he is 13th all-time in Finals Games, 17th in Rebounds, 24th in Minutes, and 35th in Points.
57) Jamaal Wilkes
1975, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984
14.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.9 APG, 44% FG, 77% FT, 31.4 MPG
1980 Game 6:
37 PTS, 10 REB, 16-30 FG
A common theme in this article will be great performances being overshadowed by iconic performances. Everybody remembers Magic Johnson’s 42-15-7 as he started in place of Kareem Adbul-Jabbar to close out the 76ers in the 1980 Finals, but Wilkes was also incredible as he picked up some of the scoring load and poured in 37 points on 16-30 shooting.
Jamaal Wilkes is incredibly underrated (a label I’ll probably use at least 20 more times in this article), and I’m probably contributing to that by putting him at just number 57. In 1975, as a Rookie, Wilkes averaged a near double-double as his Warriors swept the Washington Bullets. He was back in the Finals in 1980 with the Lakers, and averaged 21-8-3. As I mentioned above, his Game 6 is one of the best, but forgotten, performances in NBA history. He averaged 20-6-3 in the Lakers’ 1982 Finals win, and led the team with 27 Points in their Game 6 closeout victory. The Lakers were swept in the 1983 Finals, but Wilkes did average 19 Points per Game. In 1984, his last NBA Finals series, Wilkes played just 14.1 Minutes per Game. Overall, Wilkes ranks 25th all-time in Finals Steals and 38th in Points. For somebody with three rings and multiple big-time performances, this ranking may be too low.
56) Jo Jo White
18.9 PPG, 6.5 APG, 4.1 RPG, 45% FG, 81% FT, 45.9 MPG
1976 Game 5:
33 PTS, 9 AST, 6 REB, 15-29 FG, 60 Minutes
The 1976 Finals MVP played 60 minutes as the Celtics defeated the Suns 128-126 after three overtimes in arguably the greatest game in NBA history. White’s game high 33 points along with 9 assists and 6 rebounds helped the Celtics take a 3-2 series lead.
Jo Jo White is up there when it comes to the most “random” Finals MVPs. Honestly, if he just averaged 19-7-4 in two Finals appearances without the individual award, he probably doesn’t make this list. But if doesn’t exist, so Finals MVP Jo Jo White shoots all the way up to number 56. He was great, averaging 17-7-4 in the Celtics’ 1974 Finals victory, and then stepped it up to win Finals MVP with 22-6-4 in the 1976 series. Statistically, White’s biggest Finals achievement is that his 45.9 Minutes per Game ranks second among players with ten or more games played.
55) Cliff Hagan
1957, 1958, 1960, 1961
23.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 45% FG, 83% FT, 37.0 MPG
1960 Game 6:
36 PTS, 13 REB, 4 AST, 13-24 FG
Most of Hagan’s biggest Finals games came in losses, even when the Hawks won the title in 1958, so I’ll go with Game 6 in 1960 when he scored a game-high 36 points. He helped the Hawks stave off elimination in that one, but they would ultimately lose to the Celtics in Game 7.
Cliff Hagan was Bob Pettit’s underrated sidekick on the St. Louis Hawks in the 1950s and 1960s. In the Finals, he is best known for a handful of things. He averaged 25-10-4 in the Hawks lone NBA Finals win, he made a rare Finals buzzer-beater in Game 6 of the 1957 series (to force a Game 7), and he had a 40-point game (a Game 2 loss in 1961). Hagan, who is 19th all-time in Finals Rebounds, 23rd in Points per Game and 25th in total Points, would be much higher on this list if he had more than one title.
54) Draymond Green
2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
12.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 6.7 APG, 43% FG, 30% 3PT, 77% FT, 39.0 MPG
2016 Game 7:
32 PTS, 15 REB, 9 AST, 11-15 FG, 6-8 3PT
Blowing a 3-1 lead and Green’s Game 5 suspension are what we remember most when it comes to the Warriors in the 2016 Finals. From Game 7, we best remember Kyrie Irving’s game-winner and LeBron James’ chasedown block. What has been forgotten is the fact that Green was the best player on the court in Game 7. He was his typical all-time great self on the defensive end, but he also carried the Warriors with an out-of-character 32 Points and 6 threes. If the Splash Brothers, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, had held up their end of the deal in the winner-take-all-game, Green would have been the 2016 Finals MVP, and his Game 7 would have been remembered as one of the best performances ever.
Only LeBron James and Magic Johnson have more triple-doubles in the NBA Finals than Draymond Green. Usually I feel like triple-doubles can be overrated, but in this case, on the biggest stage, they highlight how Green impacts the game in every possible way. He was the engine of the 2015 Warriors’ championship team (16-11-10 in the closeout Game 6 on the road, and 13-8-5 averages in the series), and played that same role in their 2017 (averaging 11-10-5) and 2018 (averaging 9-6-9) Finals wins. In 2019, Green stepped up and nearly averaged a triple-double (13-11-9), but the Warriors lost in six games. The series that I haven’t mentioned, aside from in the previous section, is 2016. Green famously was suspended for Game 5 after accumulating too many flagrant points. This lapse in judgment helped spark the Cavaliers historic 3-1 comeback (but also may have led to the Warriors getting Kevin Durant… it’s truly one of the biggest what-ifs ever), but then he was the only player to truly show up for Golden State in Game 7. Yes, the suspension was costly, but he was also a few minutes away from winning Finals MVP. In Finals history, Green is in the top-20 in Steals (9th), Assists (12th), and Three-Pointers (17th). He is also 21st in Rebounds and 22nd in Blocks. Of course, he will move up those leaderboards in this year’s series.
53) Chauncey Billups
20.7 PPG, 5.8 APG, 4.2 RPG, 46% FG, 35% 3PT, 92% FT, 39.7 MPG
2004 Game 1:
22 PTS, 4 AST, 3 STL, 8-14 FG
The mid-2000s Pistons were so well-rounded that it was hard for Billups to have a true signature performance. He did have 34-7-5 in Game 5 of the 2005 series, but they lost the game at home. Therefore, I’ll go with his 22 Points on 8 of 14 shooting in Game 1 as the Pistons began their beatdown of the Lakers in 2004.
Spoiler alert, Chauncey Billups is the only member of the mid-2000s Pistons on this list. The Pistons crushed the Lakers in five to win the 2004 title, and fell just short in Game 7 against the Spurs in 2005. Billups makes the list by virtue of winning the 2004 Finals MVP. He averaged 21-5-3 on 51-47-93 splits in the series. He backed up the 2004 performance, and earned a higher spot on this list, by putting up 20-6-5 in the 2005 Finals. His shooting numbers did dip, and he shot just 3 of 8 in the Game 7, but he was by far the Pistons’ best player in the series. On a per game basis, Billups is 24th all-time in Finals Assists, and 30th in Points.
52) Dave Cowens
21.7 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 4.0 APG, 47% FG, 73% FT, 43.0 MPG
1974 Game 7:
28 PTS, 14 REB, 4 AST, 13-25 FG
He may not have won Finals MVP, but the Celtics don’t win the 1974 title without Cowens. Cowens led the team with 28 points and 14 rebounds (as Finals MVP winning teammate John Havlicek shot 6-20 from the field) and Boston won Game 7 on the road in Milwaukee.
Dave Cowens was an absolute star on the Celtics’ two 1970s championship teams, and he averaged 22-13-4 in the two Finals series. However, he is outside of the top 50 on this list because he didn’t win Finals MVP. Cowens averaged 23-10-5 in the Celtics’ 1974 victory over the Bucks (a series that included the huge Game 7 mentioned above), but it was teammate John Havlicek (26-8-5) who won the Finals MVP. Cowens averaged 21-16-3 in Boston's 1976 Finals victory over Phoenix, but Jo Jo White (22-6-4), took home the trophy. Cowens was fantastic in the Finals, but just two appearances and the missing Finals MVP hold him back from a higher spot on this list.
51) Andre Iguodala
2015*, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020
9.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.3 APG, 49% FG, 35% 3PT, 37% FT, 29.8 MPG
2015 Game 6:
25 PTS, 5 AST, 5 REB, 9-20 FG
Iguodala won the 2015 Finals MVP because his insertion into the starting lineup led to three straight Warriors wins and because of his defensive efforts on LeBron James. However, he came through offensively as well, putting up 25-5-5 on the road in Game 6 as the Warriors closed out the Cavaliers.
It’s high praise, but Andre Iguodala has become the Robert Horry (who we’ll get to soon) of this generation. The 2012 All-Star came to the Golden State Warriors in 2014 and reinvented himself as the ultimate role player. Unsurprisingly, that led to immediate success for Golden State. Iguodala played in his first Finals in 2015 (his second season with Golden State). After spending the first 95 games (Regular Season and Postseason) in 2015 coming off of the bench, Iguodala was put into the Warriors starting lineup after they went down two-games-to-one against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The rest is history, as the Warriors won the next three games and Iguodala won one of the most surprising Finals MVPs ever. In hindsight, it probably should’ve gone to Steph Curry, but Iguodala’s defense on LeBron and his 16-6-4 averages with 40% shooting from three made it understandable in the moment. Over the next five years, Iguodala kept playing in the Finals. In 2016, he was banged-up but still managed 9-6-4 in the series. However, his most memorable 2016 moment is being the victim of LeBron James’ iconic Game 7 chasedown block. In 2017, he averaged 9-3-3, made a big defensive play stripping James in Game 3, and won his second championship. He missed two games in the 2018 Finals, but returned in time to help the Warriors sweep the Cavaliers. In 2019, with the Warriors missing Kevin Durant due to injury, Iguodala had to step up once again. He made the game-clinching three to take Game 2 of the series in Toronto, and scored 22 Points in Game 6 (which was the game the Warriors were closed out by the Raptors). In the bubble in 2020, Iguodala played in his sixth-straight Finals, this time with the Heat. He played just 19.7 Minutes per Game and the Heat lost to the Lakers in six. In the Finals, Iguodala ranks 13th all-time in Three Pointers, 25th in Steals, 28th in Blocks, 29th in Games, and 31st in Assists.
50) Robert Parish
1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987
15.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 48% FG, 63% FT, 32.9 MPG
1984 Game 4:
25 PTS, 12 REB, 3 STL, 2 BLK
Trailing 2-1 in the series and on the road in Los Angeles for Game 4, Robert Parish came up huge on both sides of the floor with 25 points and 12 rebounds along with 3 steals and 2 blocks. The Celtics tied the series up, and ultimately prevailed in seven games.
Throughout his Finals career, Robert Parish was a model of consistency. In 1981, he averaged 15 Points and 8 Rebounds per Game. In 1984, 15 and 11. In 1985, 17 and 9. In 1986, 13 and 7. In 1987, 17 and 7. While he doesn’t have a specific moment that everybody remembers from his Finals career, something has to be said for that level of consistency as a top player on a Celtics team that played in five Finals in the 1980s (winning three). In the Finals, he ranks 4th all-time in Blocks, 20th in Rebounds, 24th in Steals, and 30th in Games. He even picked up a fourth championship, as a 43-year-old (!) with the 1997 Bulls, but he did not play in the Finals. I’ll admit that this is probably too low for Parish, whose consistency and impact on winning should be rewarded, regardless of if he has an iconic moment or not.
49) Derek Fisher
2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012
8.7 PPG, 2.4 APG, 2.2 RPG, 43% FG, 42% 3PT, 81% FT, 28.1 MPG
2009 Game 4:
12 PTS, 4 REB, 2-7 3PT
Fisher played in 43 Finals games throughout his 18-year career, but his biggest moment came in 2009 against the Magic. On the road in Orlando, Fisher made a three-pointer to force overtime at the end of regulation, and then hit what would end up being the game-winning three in the extra period. Fisher’s heroics helped give the Lakers a 3-1 series lead.
Derek Fisher is the epitome of a great role player. He showed this time and time again on the NBA’s biggest stage. Fisher was a major contributor for the Lakers during their 2000-2002 three-peat. He came off the bench (and went 7 of 12 from three) in their 2000 series victory, but started at Point Guard in both 2001 and 2002. His best moments came in 2002, when he averaged 13-4-4 and made 8 of 12 threes. He was back on the bench, backing up Gary Payton, in the 2004 Finals, and apparently less Fisher meant less success for the Lakers, who lost in five games. Fisher and the Lakers returned for three more Finals from 2008 to 2010. He struggled in their 2008 series loss, shooting just 3-16 from three, but bounced back with a big 2009 series (11 Points per Game and the clutch moments mentioned above) that the Lakers won. The 35-year-old Fisher was as-reliable-as-ever in 2010, averaging 9 Points in 30.6 Minutes per Game as the Lakers repeated. He even made an eighth Finals trip in 2012, as a 37-year-old, playing 25.6 Minutes per Game with the Oklahoma City Thunder in their loss to the Heat. Fisher won five championships and, in the Finals, ranks in the top-20 in Three-Pointers (8th), Games (13th), and Steals (13th).
48) Cedric Maxwell
1981*, 1984, 1985
11.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 52% FG, 81% FT, 29.1 MPG
1984 Game 7:
24 PTS, 8 AST, 8 REB, 14-17 FT
Maxwell was the surprise Finals MVP in 1981, but it was the 1984 series where he had his best performance. Facing the Lakers in Game 7, it was Maxwell, and not Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish or Dennis Johnson, who led the way for the Celtics with 24 Points. He also added 8 rebounds and 8 assists while making 14 of 17 free throws to help the Celtics defeat their great rival.
As soon as Chauncey Billups gets in, Cedric Maxwell will revert back to being the only Finals MVP not in the Basketball Hall of Fame. In the Celtics’ 1981 Finals victory over the Rockets, it was Maxwell who won the MVP after averaging 18-10-3 on 57% shooting. He probably clinched the award in Game 5, when, with the series tied at two, he scored 28 Points (on 10-13 shooting), and grabbed 15 Rebounds (7 offensive), as the Celtics took a 3-2 lead. He was clutch once again in 1984, especially Game 7 (see above), averaging 13-6-3. In the 1985 Finals, he played just 10.8 Minutes per Game as the Celtics lost to the Lakers. This may seem too high for Maxwell, but the Finals MVP combined with the 1984 Game 7 feels like enough to crack the top 50.
47) Pau Gasol
2008, 2009, 2010
17.3 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 53% FG, 71% FT, 41.1 MPG
2010 Game 7:
19 PTS, 18 REB, 4 AST, 2 BLK
Game 7 of the 2010 Finals was an absolute rock fight. This allowed Gasol to come up huge on the glass with 18 rebounds, 9 of them being offensive, and he added 19 points with 4 assists and 2 blocks. Without Gasol’s Game 7 performance, the Lakers don’t repeat as champions.
Pau Gasol was the Lakers’ second best player in three-straight Finals series from 2008 to 2010. In 2008, he was solid, averaging 15-10-3 on 53% shooting, but the Lakers lost the series in six. He stepped his game up in 2009, helping the Lakers win the title with averages of 19 Points and 10 Rebounds per Game on 60% shooting from the field. Where Pau Gasol was most impressive in his Finals career was when the Lakers went down 3-2 in the 2010 series. Needing to win both Games 6 and 7 at home to go back-to-back, Gasol upped his level. In Game 6, he put up a near triple-double with 17-13-9 and added 3 Blocks. His Game 7 performance as the Lakers won the title is discussed above. He finished the series averaging 19-12-4 with 2.6 Blocks per Game, and had a legitimate case to win Finals MVP over teammate Kobe Bryant (Bryant won the award). In the Finals, Gasol ranks 18th all-time in Blocks per Game, and 19th all-time in both Field Goal Percentage and Rebounds per Game.
46) Moses Malone
23.7 PPG, 16.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 44% FG, 68% FT, 42.6 MPG
1983 Game 4:
24 PTS, 23 REB, 3 BLK, 9-22 FG
Malone’s iconic “Fo fo fo” prediction did not come true in 1983 (they lost a game to the Bucks in the Conference Finals), but that was irrelevant as they did come through with a sweep of the Lakers in the Finals. Malone closed the series out in style with a team-high 24 points and 23 rebounds.
He only played in two NBA Finals, but it’s impossible to not be in awe of Moses Malone’s average of 23.7 Points and 16.6 Rebounds per Game. He played his first Finals in 1981 with the Houston Rockets, who he brought there in surprise fashion. In the Finals, he averaged 22-16 with 2.2 Blocks per Game, but shot just 40% from the field and lost the series to the Celtics in six games. Malone was back in the Finals with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983. He won Finals MVP as he averaged 26 and 18 in the Sixers’ sweep of the Lakers. The more I think about it, Malone probably deserves to be higher on this list. I’ll keep him here at 46 and justify it by saying he only played in two Finals, shot just 40% in 1981, and was playing on a loaded Philadelphia team in 1983, but I admittedly don’t feel great about it.
45) Bob Dandridge
1971, 1974, 1978, 1979
19.6 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 45% FG, 73% FT, 41.9 MPG
1978 Game 2:
34 PTS, 8 REB, 14-22 FG
The underrated Dandridge led the Bullets to victory with 34 points (on highly efficient 14-22 shooting) in Game 2 of the 1978 Finals, as they avoided falling down 2-0. He also scored 19 points, tied for the team high, on the road in Game 7 as the Bullets won the title.
Bob Dandridge is one of the more underrated players in NBA history. What stands out most on his Finals resume, other than his 19.6 Points per Game, is that fact that he had two separate runs during the 1970s. He made the 1971 and 1974 Finals with the Bucks, and the 1978 and 1979 Finals with the Bullets. In 1971, Dandridge, playing with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, averaged 20 Points and 10 Rebounds per Game as the Bucks swept the Baltimore Bullets. In 1974, the Bucks lost in seven games to the Celtics, but Dandridge still put up a solid 17 Points per Game. In the final two years of the decade, Dandridge split two more Finals appearances. In 1978, he averaged 20-7-4 and, as mentioned above, was tied for the team high in points in their road Game 7 victory. The next year, despite the loss, Dandridge averaged 22-8-5 in the Finals. Bob Dandridge is on the relatively short list of players who can say that they were major contributors on two different championship teams, especially when the titles come seven years apart.
44) Ray Allen
2008, 2010, 2013, 2014
13.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.9 APG, 45% FG, 43% 3PT, 91% FT, 34.8 MPG
2013 Game 6:
9 PTS, 1-3 3PT, 41 MIN
In 2010, Ray Allen made a then-Finals-record 8 threes in Game 2, and then followed it up going 0-13 from the field and 0-8 from three as the Celtics lost home-court in Game 3. However, neither of those games, representing a great high and a huge low, come anywhere near what he did in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Allen hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history, tying the game with a corner three and keeping the Heat’s season alive. As the Heat then won in overtime, and then again in Game 7, Allen’s shot has been immortalized in NBA lore.
There isn’t much more that needs to be said about Ray Allen’s 2013 Finals than what I wrote above. Even at 37-years-old, he was great, he made 55% of his threes, and he hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history. His performance as a 38-year-old in the Heat’s 2014 Finals loss was impressive as well, averaging 10 Points on 41% from three in 31 Minutes per Game. In the 2010 Finals, he was bad. He somehow shot 29% from three and went 3-14 from the field in the Celtics’ Game 7 loss to the Lakers. Forget those three series though, let’s get to what I was hinting at before. How did Ray Allen not win Finals MVP over Paul Pierce in 2008? Allen put up essentially equal numbers on far better shooting percentages, spent more time guarding Kobe Bryant, and played better in the pivotal games. I’ve never understood that one, and definitely would have voted for Allen (Kevin Garnett, a tough omission from this list, also deserved consideration). Regardless, Allen would’ve made this list based just off of what he did in his two Celtics Finals, but his two Heat series (especially 2013) helped move him up about 20 spots.
43) Manu Ginóbili
2003, 2005, 2007, 2013, 2014