Counting Down the 7 Best Single-Game Performances in NBA History

11 years ago today, Kobe Bryant gave us a scoring performance for the ages that will forever stand among the greatest single-game performances in league history. On January 22, 2006, the Toronto Raptors paid a visit to the Staples Center to face Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers, in what should have been not much more than an average regular season NBA game. What followed, however, was anything but average.

Where were you the day Kobe scored 81 points in a single game? Relive every basket right

To see where Kobe’s scoring outburst ranks among the 7 greatest performances in NBA history, continue reading down below. Sound off in the comments if you disagree with the list, or think that anybody was left missing.

Honorable Mentions: Allen Iverson, 2001 NBA Finals: Game 1 (48 points, 6 assists, 5 steals); LeBron James, 2007 Eastern Conference Finals: Game 5 (48 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists); Elgin Baylor, 1962 NBA Finals: Game 5 (61 points, 22 rebounds)

  1. LeBron James, 2012 Eastern Conference Finals: Game 6 (45 points, 15 rebounds)


Derick E. Hingle-USA Today

After losing game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in a heart-breaker to the Boston Celtics at home, LeBron James and his Miami Heat traveled to Boston trailing 3 games to 2 in the series, facing elimination. Rumors began to swirl of an off-season demolition of the newly formed big three consisting of LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, after what was looking to be a second successive season without a championship title to their names.

As soon as the ball was tipped to begin game 6, however, it became evident that quite frankly, LeBron did not care about what anyone in the media had to say, and was determined to bring the series to a game 7 back home in Miami. That is exactly what he did, going off for 45 points and grabbing 15 boards en route to a dominant 19-point victory over the C’s.

The Heat would go on to win the series, and eventually the NBA Finals over a young Oklahoma City Thunder team, giving LeBron his first championship ring.

  1. Isiah Thomas, 1988 NBA Finals: Game 6 (43 points, 8 assists, 6 steals, and 1 sprained ankle)

In what was one of the most gutsy and awe-inspiring performances of all time, Isiah Thomas showed just what it meant to be a Detroit “bad boy” Piston.

Midway through the third quarter of a potentially title-clinching game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Magic Johnson-led Los Angeles Lakers, point guard Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons went down with an apparent sprained ankle. Shockingly, Thomas was only sidelined for a matter of minutes, and limped back out onto the court later that same quarter. What followed is a performance that will forever live on in the memories of basketball fans everywhere.

Isiah Thomas would hobble his way to a 25-point third quarter, scoring 11 more points after going down with 14 already scored in the quarter. He eventually finished the game with 43 points, along with 8 assists and 6 steals. Although the Pistons would lose the game 103-102, and eventually the series in the consequent seventh game, Isiah Thomas’s 25-point quarter will always be remembered as one of the gutsiest performances in league history.

  1. Michael Jordan, 1986 Playoffs: Game 2 (63 points)

In all actuality, this list probably could have been compiled using only performances from Michael Jordan, but for the sake of enjoyment, only two were included. One that can never be ignored included the setting of a record that still stands today, 63 points scored in a playoff game.

After missing a vast majority of the regular season with a foot injury, Jordan and the Chicago Bulls limped into the playoffs with a 30-52 record, one of the worst records to ever belong to a playoff team. They would come up against a Boston Celtics team, led by Larry Bird, which is often thought to be one of the best teams in NBA history. In game 2 of the series, a young MJ, in just his third season in the NBA, produced the greatest scoring performance in league history. MJ scored 63 points that night, but it was ultimately not enough to power the Bulls to a victory over the Celtics, eventually losing 135-131 in double-overtime.

  1. Shaquille O’Neil, 2001 NBA Finals: Game 2 (28 points, 20 rebounds, 9 assists, 8 blocks)

If Shaq had managed to swat just two more shots and dish out just one more assist, we would be looking at the only quadruple-double in NBA Finals history. Nonetheless, Shaquille O’Neil’s 28 points, 20 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 blocks stand as one of the greatest performances of all time.

After the Los Angeles Lakers fell behind 1-0 in the NBA Finals, following an overtime loss to Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers, Shaq came out in game 2 determined not to go down 2-0 with the series heading back to Philly for game 3. O’Neil did it all that night, quite literally. The Lakers would win the game by a score of 98-89, and would go on to win the series without losing another game, clinching their second consecutive championship.

  1. Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” , 1997 NBA Finals: Game 5 (38 points)

Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” is, and always will be, one of the most famous performances by a single player in NBA history.

With a serious case of the flu, and the NBA Finals series between Michael’s Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz sitting tied at 2 games a piece, Michael Jordan gave a performance that would have been worthy of praise, even if he had been in perfect health. This was not the case, however, and Michael appeared visibly ill throughout the game.

Despite his illness, His Airness poured in 38 points in a legendary performance that was summed up perfectly by head coach Phil Jackson: “This was a heroic effort, one to add to the collection of efforts that make up his legend” (via Throughout the history of the NBA, there have been many examples of players overcoming physical disadvantages through injury or illness, but we will most likely never again witness a player capable of dropping 38 points while suffering from an illness as debilitating as the flu.

  1. Kobe Bryant, 2006 Regular Season (81 point game)


Robert Hanashiro-USA Today Sports

Here it is, the performance that inspired this list. Kobe Bryant’s 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors on the Sunday afternoon of January 22, 2006 was one topped only by a certain Wilt Chamberlain, and is still a Laker record to this day.

81 points is not the only impressive number to come out of this game, either. On 46 shot attempts, Kobe shot an astounding 60.9%, and he scored 55 of his 81 points in the second half alone. Although the game took place in the regular season and did not carry too much importance, the sheer volume of scoring from Kobe that day was enough to place this performance among the all-time greatest.

  1. Wilt Chamberlain, 1962 Regular Season (100 point game)

100 points, 1 game. There isn’t much more that can be said about the single greatest showcase of scoring in the history of the game. Some may point out the lack of significant competition, while others might site conspiracy theories about whether or not the game even occurred. For the rest of us, we will always be content to bask in the glory of one of the most famous images in basketball history: Wilt “the Stilt” Chamberlain, holding up a blank sheet of paper with only one thing written on it–the number 100.

Regardless of the competition, or lack thereof, that Wilt faced in this game between his Philadelphia Warriors and the New York Knickerbockers on that fateful night in Hershey, Pennsylvania, 100 points in a single game is a feat that will very likely never be repeated. For that reason, we should all agree to respect it as the single greatest performance in NBA history.