And we’ve arrived to our end destination. After a breaking down the greatest seasons, regular season games, and playoff games performances, we’ve reached the NBA Finals. The Lakers have played in significantly more Finals games than anyone else, having played in 31 Finals for 179 games.
That gives us a huge sample size of Lakers performances to pick from. Many of these have become iconic, many have come in Game 7s, and all will forever be apart of Laker lore. And with the Finals be far more documented than the rest of the playoffs, we can bring you games from Baylor, West, and Chamberlain in addition to Shaq, Kobe, and Magic.
10. Metta World Peace vs. Celtics, Game 7, 2010
Stats – 20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 1 assist, 7-18 FG
Sure, I’ll throw a curveball at you right from the get go. MWP did have one of the greatest Lakers games in NBA Finals history, and here’s why: without him, we lose that game.
MWP’s run in LA has been entertaining, but underwhelming, much like his play style. The Lakers brought in Artest for his defense, but it was his offense that everyone focused on. In the 6 games leading up to this pivotal battle, MWP was averaging 9.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and shooting just 35%.
But in typical MWP fashion, his flair for the dramatics put him right into Lakers history. His 12 points in the first half kept the Lakers in the game and his HUGE three was the nail in the Celtics coffin in the 4th quarter. And don’t forget the post-game news conference he provided us.
9. Kobe Bryant vs. Pacers, Game 4, 2000
Stats – 28 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 14-27 FG
While Kobe has had many trips to the NBA Finals, his most memorable performance might have come in his first. With the series sitting at 2-1, the Lakers had a huge opportunity to steal a game in Indianapolis and take a big step toward title one. However, mid-way through overtime, Shaq fouled out, leaving Kobe and the Pacers without their dominant big man.
Some say this is the moment the Black Mamba was discovered.
Kobe silenced the raucous Pacers crowd with back-to-back pull-up jumpers on Reggie Miller. But with the Lakers tied and the shot clock winding down, Brian Shaw forced up a running shot that missed, only to be met by Kobe as he tipped it back in with 5.9 seconds remaining in the game, sealing a Lakers victory.
8. Wilt Chamberlain vs. Knicks, Game 5, 1972
Stats – 24 points, 29 rebounds, 8 assists, 8 blocks
Wilt Chamberlain’s time in LA, given how his career played out beforehand, could be deemed a disappointment. His first two seasons in LA were met with Finals losses, the third not even a Finals appearance. At 35 years old entering the 1971-72 season, to say Chamberlain was a shell of his former self would be an understatement.
But Chamberlain and the Lakers silenced any doubters as they embarked on their historic run, winning 33 straight games in the regular season and finishing 69 games overall. The first round of the playoffs was met with a similar lack of resistance as they swept the Bulls in 4 games. They finally suffered a setback, albeit a minor one, as they dropped two games to the Bucks, but still won the series in six games, taking them to their third Finals in four years.
This time, they weren’t to be denied. After dropping the first game, the Lakers ripped off before hosting the Knicks for Game 5. That’s where the big man stepped up, pouring in 24 points, grabbing 29 rebounds, dishing out 8 assists, and unofficially recording 8 blocks (announcer Keith Jackson kept a running tally on air).
It was the last spectacular performance by Wilt the Stilt, but one of his best.
7. Shaquille O’Neal vs. Philadelphia, Game 1, 2001
Stats – 44 points, 20 rebounds, 5 assists, 17-28 FG
In 2001, the Lakers were virtually unstoppable heading into the playoffs. The team won their last eight games of the regular season, then proceeded to sweep the Trailblazers, Kings, and Spurs, pushing their win streak to 19. The question coming into the Finals was not if the Lakers would win, but if they could do it in four games.
Despite the easy ride, Shaq remained motivated, showcased by his Game 1 performance. The Lakers met the fiesty 76ers in the Finals and Allen Iverson was carrying them through the playoffs. Down by 15 midway through the 3rd, Shaq took over. Over the final 22 minutes of the game, Shaq scored 23 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and had 3 assists. Although it wasn’t enough, the Diesel’s huge second half propelled him to a 40-20 game, one of which he has four of in the NBA Playoffs.
6. Shaquille O’Neal vs. Pacers, Game 2, 2000
Stats – 40 points, 24 rebounds, 4 assists, 11-18 FG
Back in 2000, the Lakers were just beginning their dominant run and did not yet possess the confidence and swagger that led to their 3-peat (and their later demise, I might add). Shaq helped give them that. Facing a tandem of Rik Smits and Dale Davis down low, Shaq completely dismantled the Pacers the entire series to the tune of 38 points and 16.7 rebounds a game.
But no performance was more impressive than this Game 2 beatdown. With the Pacers hammering away at the big man (sending him to the line 39 times in the second game alone), Shaq responded by hammering back. His first 40-20 NBA Finals game also helped foul out Davis and Sam Perkins for the Pacers, while Smits finished with five fouls. For the Pacers, Shaq was too much to handle as never scored less than 33 points in any of the games.
5. Shaquille O’Neal vs. 76ers, Game 2, 2001
Stats – 28 points, 20 rebounds, 9 assists, 8 blocks, 12-19 FG
Think about this: Shaq has already had two separate 40-20 games on this list, and they’re not even his most impressive Finals games.
Following the (embarrassing?) loss to the 76ers, Shaq came out motivated, which is scary considering he just scored 44 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. He couldn’t possibly play better, could he?
Shaq damn near got himself a quadruple-double
His 28 points on 19 FGs is impressive. His 20 rebounds included 8 offensive rebounds, an impressive feat. His 9 assists would be a solid game for a center. His 8 blocks is four times his career average. Oh, HE DID THAT ALL IN ONE GAME!
Shaq completely erased the thought that the 76ers had a chance in the series in one grand swoop. The Lakers wouldn’t lose another game in the series on their way to their second title.
4. Elgin Baylor at Boston, Game 5, 1962
Stats – 61 points, 22 rebounds
Elgin Baylor’s 1962 season was already crazy enough. As I broke down in my greatest Lakers seasons article, Baylor was drafted to the Army and could only play games on weekends. He still scored 38 points a game and grabbed 18 rebounds.
Come the NBA Finals, Baylor was able to participate in every game. His insane scoring rate continued as he scored 35, 36, 39, and 38 points in the first four games. However, it was only good enough for two wins as the Celtics featured the dominant Bill Russell.
Come Game 5, Baylor let it all hang out, dropping 61 points on 22 field goals. Insanity. On top of that, he added 22 rebounds.
Did I mention Baylor was 6’5?
For the series, Baylor would finish the remaining two games with 34 points and 27 rebounds in Game 6 and 41 points in Game 7, but it wasn’t enough as the Lakers lost.
For the series, Baylor averaged 40.6 points a game, while his teammate Jerry West poured in 31 a game.
3. Jerry West vs. Celtics, Game 7, 1969
Stats – 42 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists
Seven years after Baylor’s 40.6 points per game Finals average, the duo met Boston again. The Lakers had made the Finals four other times in between these two meetings, losing every time.
This time, with the help of newly acquired Wilt Chamberlain, the Lakers forced another Game 7. However, heading into the 4th quarter, the Lakers saw themselves trailing 91-76. A furious comeback by the team, minus their star as he was in foul trouble, then went down with a knee injury brought the Lakers within striking range. With just 1:33 left and the Lakers down 103-102, a loose ball was picked up by the Celtics Don Nelson, who famously threw up a desperation attempt that hit the back of the rim, bounced straight up, then dropped through. The shot ended the Lakers comeback as they lost by 2, 108-106.
Despite the loss, West was given the Finals MVP trophy following his massive triple-double in Game 7. His 37.8 points a game led all scorers for the series, but it wasn’t enough.
2. James Worthy vs. Detroit, Game 7, 1988
36 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, 15-22 FG, 6-10 FT
Big Game James didn’t get his nickname for nothing, and it was never more apparent than in the 1988 Finals. Facing a scrappy Pistons team, the Lakers fought their way to a Game 7 despite being down 3-2 in the series. In Game 6, Isiah Thomas badly sprained his ankle, but still put up 43 points and 8 assists. Despite that, the Lakers walked away with a narrow win, setting up Game 7 in the Forum.
Enter James Worthy.
Worthy picked a great time to record the only triple-double of his career as the Lakers held off a furious late rally by the Pistons to secure their 5th title of the 80s. As a result of his efforts, capped off by his Game 7 performance, Worthy was awarded the NBA Finals MVP title.
1. Magic Johnson at 76ers, Game 6, 1980
Stats – 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, 14-14 FT
Playing as a rookie in the NBA can be overwhelming, requiring a bit of time to adjust to the learning curve. Playing in the Finals as a rookie? You probably aren’t asked to do much, nothing more than a role player.
Unless your name is Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Not only was his playing in his first NBA Finals, he was playing in his first season altogether. For the majority of the Finals, he sat back and let Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes lead the show. And when Kareem went down midway through the 3rd quarter of Game 5 with a badly sprained ankle, Magic had a couple moments of brilliance. However, Kareem returned and scored 14 points in the 4th quarter.
However, the ankle swelled badly and not only was Kareem not available for Game 6, he was forced to fly to LA for more treatment. And considering he averaged 33.4 points through the first five games, the Lakers chances were more than dim.
But all they needed was a little Magic.
Head coach Paul Westhead went unorthodox and started Magic at center, while playing him at all five positions throughout the game. The result? One of the greatest performances in NBA history. Magic dominated the game in every facet, leading the team in scoring and rebounding.
It was Magic who spurned the Lakers to a 7-0 start. It was Magic who help key a 14-0 run to start the 3rd quarter. It was Magic who scored nine points in the final five minutes of the game. And it was Magic who left Philadelphia with the Finals MVP trophy.
With full pun intended, it was truly a magical performance.