The Most Surprising Individual NBA Playoff Performances, Ranked


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Now more than ever, if you want to win the NBA title, you need superstars. Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (theoretically) — if you don’t have a player from that tier of greatness, you probably don’t have a shot at winning it all. Yet as KD and Russ proved, you need more than stars to guarantee a title. Every so often, if the stars aren’t shining, you need an out-of-nowhere performance from a role player to push you over the top. Not all of these came in the Finals, but every single guy on here rose above his station for a glorious moment (or series) to help take his team to the NBA Championship.

HONORABLE MENTION: Sleepy Floyd, 1987 Western Conference Semifinals Game 4

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Sure, the Warriors (coached by young George Karl!) weren’t much more than a speed bump to possibly the best incarnation of the Showtime Lakers in 1987, but for one charmed night in the Bay Area, no one was a bigger star than Sleepy Floyd, who embodied the term “single-handed” — as in, he single-handedly won this game by scoring 51 points, 29 of them in the fourth quarter, when the Warriors went on a massive comeback thanks to Sleepy’s relentless series of drives. He started off nailing a couple of three pointers, but the plays that took and kept the lead for Golden State were fearless drives into the heart of the Lakers, taken early and decisively enough to catch A.C. Green and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar flat-footed. For one night, Sleepy was invincible — remind you of another skinny Warriors guard?

7. Shawn Marion, 2011 NBA Finals

Since 2011, the rule of winning the NBA Finals has been that you either have to have LeBron or have someone who can slow down LeBron. In 2011, the latter took the form of Shawn Marion, who held LeBron to 8 points in Game 4, hounded him all series on defense and punished him for helping on Dirk Nowitzki, defensively. The Matrix averaged nearly 14 points a game, as well, without shooting much from the three-point or foul line — he just consistently found creases in the Heat’s swarming defense and knocked down those little floaters in the lane. The next defender good enough to prevent LeBron from winning the title was Kawhi Leonard, so history should remember Marion fondly.

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