Opinion: Top 5 NBA Performances of This Millennium
NBA players, at the end of the day, are ranked by their statistics more so than any other measurable.
Championships are a team accomplishment and no one-man-army has ever been able to get a title without the help of other star power.
LeBron James’ 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers and Allen Iverson’s 2001 Philadelphia 76ers came as close as anyone, losing in the NBA Finals to the superstar-filled San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers. NBA nerds such as myself hold a special place for statistical masterpieces in our hearts.
I have ranked the best single-game statistical performances from across the NBA since 2000 and, obviously, am subject to personal bias although I will attempt to defend my answers. I chose this side of the millenia due to the fact that Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell could each fill their own lists.
5.) Lebron James: 18-33 FG, 10-14 FT, 48 PTS, 9 REB, 7 AST, 2 STL
This performance was put on by none other than the aforementioned Lebron “King” James in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals with the series tied at two games apiece. While we have seen many great scoring performances in the NBA, this one is truly special because many people believed it was James’ first “this is going to be my league” moment.
With the Cavaliers trailing in the fourth quarter to the Detroit Pistons, “The King” took over and scored 25 consecutive points, and 29 of the team’s final 30. He knocked down the game winner with 2.2 seconds left in double overtime to take him one game away from his first finals appearance.
It is not unprecedented for a player of his caliber to heat up and score like that, but it has never been done at that level of a moment with an NBA title on the line.
4.) Russell Westbrook: 8-23 FG, 20 PTS, 20 REB, 21 AST
One of my personal favorite performances in any sporting event was done by Russell Westbrook back in April 2019 against the Los Angeles Lakers. For some context, Westbrook’s personal friend and LA legend Nipsey Hussle had passed away earlier in that week.
Westbrook took the loss of his friend and transformed his sorrow into a performance we’re not likely to see again in our lifetime. A 20-20-20 game had not been seen since Wilt Chamberlain put one on in the ‘60s.
As he grabbed his 20th rebound, Russ came down the court, overcome with emotion, shouting “That is for Nip (Nipsey Hussle)! For my guy Nip!” Some people have called Westbrook a “stat-padder” or “selfish,” but in this case, I think the final couple of rebounds with less than two minutes left were worth it.
3.) Klay Thompson: 21-33 FG, 8-14 3PT, 60 PTS, 29MIN
Klay Thompson, decorated NBA champion and 3-point marksman, gave us one of the best displays of pure shooting we will ever witness. In December 2016, the Indiana Pacers were deer in headlights.
Klay could not be stopped, going on a stretch in the third quarter that saw him pour in 36 points in an 11 minute stretch. Thirty-six points.
The highlights of this game will live on in infamy and inspire the best shooters everywhere to always have the confidence to put up, what they believe, is a good shot.
Klay was on pace for 100 points that night if given Chamberlain-esque minutes, but the Golden State Warriors were up by more than 30 points after his electric third quarter and he never played in the fourth. While it is an understandable decision to keep him out with the game in hand, we can only wonder what his final point total could have been if head coach Steve Kerr had been irresponsible.
2.) Tim Duncan: 9-19 FG, 3-5 FT, 21PTS, 20 REB, 10 AST, 8 BLK
I would not be doing this list justice without mentioning Tim Duncan’s “almost” quadruple-double in game six of the 2003 finals against the Pistons. He played a whopping 46 minutes in the championship clinching game and gave fans perhaps his best individual performance of all-time.
Dominance cannot be mentioned in the NBA without thinking of Duncan and the Spurs’ stranglehold on the Western Conference for the better part of this millennia. Duncan showed the world what it meant to be an NBA champion on and off the court all the time.
This on-court performance will be heralded by Spurs and basketball fans alike for years to come.
1. Kobe Bryant: 28-46 FG, 7-13 3PT, 18-20 FT, 81 PTS, 6 REB, 2 AST, 3 STL
Kobe. The name we yell when throwing trash in the bin, laundry in the basket, throwing anything into anything. In 2006, one night against the Toronto Raptors, Kobe Bryant put together the second-highest scoring performance from a player in league history.
Bryant’s superstardom already existed as a three-time NBA champion, but those 81 points in a game that his team needed him to score for a win, made him a legend. Scoring 55 points in the final 24 minutes of regulation while trailing until the mid-fourth quarter is breathtaking. He could not be stopped by anyone guarding him.
The Black Mamba will live on in NBA lore as a scoring legend, and after his untimely January death, this statistical accomplishment seems to have just a little more mysticism to it.