The NBA playoffs are upon us and everyone is pulling for the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers NBA Finals. The ultimate battle between superteams would be a delight to fans across the world and would be an added chapter of hard-fought playoff battles.
When it comes to the playoffs, we have seen some of the best players ever put up big point totals in game-deciding victories. If the Lakers and Nets meet in the NBA Finals, it would include the only three active players in the top-25 of all-time playoff points. Altogether, there are 26 players all-time that own at least 3,000 career playoff points or more.
Here are those players sorted out by tiers.
3000+ Career Playoff Points
James Worthy, James Harden, Manu Ginobili, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, Paul Pierce
Worthy, the former No. 1 overall pick in 1982, barely cut with 3,022 playoff points. Worthy was a three-time NBA champion during his tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers. Worthy was so clutch that he garnered the name “Big Game James.” Over the weekend, James Harden passed Worthy to own 3,030 career playoff points. By the end of the playoffs, Harden could surge past 20th on the list.
The Spurs feature three players in the top 25, and that starts with Manu Ginobili’s 3,054 career points. Ginobili was a member of four championship teams. That’s not too bad for a former 57th overall draft pick.
In front of Ginobili is Dennis Johnson with 3,180. Johnson served as an excellent defensive player during the 80s Boston Celtics teams. With Larry Bird manning most of the load offensively, Johnson came as a third option but performed very well in the playoffs with the SuperSonics and Suns.
Two more Celtics close out this tier with Paul Pierce (3,180) and Kevin McHale (3,182). McHale won three championships with the Celtics, while Pierce won one championship in 2008, but was named NBA Finals MVP.
3,500+ Career Playoff Points
Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Scottie Pippen, Dirk Nowitzki, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, Dwyane Wade
This is a loaded tier with the likes of scoring legends Wilt Chamberlain (3,607) and Elgin Baylor (3,623). Chamberlain once averaged 28.0 points and 30.2 rebounds in a playoff series and still lost. However, he won two championships, one with Philly and the other with the Lakers. Baylor once averaged 38.1 points in 1961 and then followed that up with 38.6 points in the playoffs in 1962.
Scottie Pippen ran up his total of 3,642 points by playing alongside Michael Jordan on route to winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls. Dirk Nowitzki was a fixture in the playoffs with the Mavericks, leading the team to 15 playoff appearances, as well as the 2011 NBA championship.
Magic Johnson (3,701) would potentially have finished his career as the all-time leader in playoff points had he not been diagnosed with HIV and retired early. Hakeem Olajuwon (3,755) barely surpassed the great Magic during his one season in Toronto after all those years of leading the Rockets, including two championships in 1994 and 1995.
Two former Celtics bring up the back end of this tier with John Havlicek (3,776) and Larry Bird (3,897). Both were championship players, all-time leaders in franchise history in multiple categories, and household names among the Boston community. Speaking of household names, Dwyane Wade (3,954) is among the greatest in Miami Heat history as he won three championships during his tenure.
4,000+ Career Playoff Points
Tony Parker, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Julius Erving, Karl Malone
Tony Parker (4,045) barely made this tier but accumulated a large title after qualifying for the playoffs with the San Antonio Spurs every season from 2002 to 2018. Parker was among the Big Three that won four championships. Just above Parker is Kevin Durant, ranked second among active players in career playoff points. Durant (4,075) has a couple of years before moving up the all-time list as his career total ranks nearly 400 fewer points than ninth-ranked Jerry West.
West, potentially the best overall scorer on this list once averaged 40.6 points per game in a playoff series in 1965. West versus Bill Russell was must-watch television before West finished his career with 4,457 playoff points.
Right above West is Julius Erving (4,580). Erving averaged 27.9 points per game on route to 1974’s championship team. Then in 1976, Erving helped the Nets win their second championship by averaging 34.7 points per game. When he left the ABA and joined the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, he averaged over 20 points in the playoffs six straight seasons.
Rounding out this tier is the great Karl Malone (4,761) at seventh all-time. Malone never won the exclusive championship ring, but he helped the Utah Jazz make the NBA Finals on multiple accounts, including back-to-back seasons in 1997 and 1998. Altogether, Malone helped the Jazz make the playoffs 18 straight seasons from 1986 to 2003.
5,000 Career Playoff Points
Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan
Duncan, the third and final member of the Spurs’ Big 3, made the 5,000-point tier after winning his fifth championship in 2014. Duncan’s 5,172 career playoff points are the most in Spurs history. Duncan played in every playoff game the Spurs had from 1999 to 2016, except the 2000 playoffs due to a meniscus injury.
Shaquille O’Neal (5,250) put up some of the best numbers we have ever seen in the playoffs during the Lakers’ three-peat. Shaq averaged point totals of 30.7 in 2000, 30.4 in 2001, and 28.5 in 2002. His former teammate, Kobe Bryant, ranks fourth with 5,640 career points and finished with one more championship than Shaq with five by the time their careers ended.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ranks third all-time with 5,762 points and six championships. In his rookie season, Abdul-Jabbar averaged a career-high 35.2 points per game. He averaged over 30 points in three more seasons. By the end of his career, Abdul-Jabbar broke Wilt Chamberlain’s career points record and was the all-time leader.
That record would be broken by, perhaps, the greatest to ever play the game of basketball. Michael Jordan went 6-0 in the Finals, won six NBA Finals MVPs, and finished his career as the leader in playoff points with 5,987. Had Jordan not retired on two separate occasions, it’s possible he would still own this record.
7,000 Career Playoff Points
LeBron is not only the active leader in playoff points but the all-time leader with 7,509 career points. LeBron has a chance to go over 8,000 career points within the next two years. If the Lakers can go on a deep playoff run this year, it will certainly help his case.
Critics like to say that LeBron has played in the most playoff games of all time. Entering the playoffs, LeBron had played 260 career games. In the end, we should appreciate what LeBron has given us, which includes making the NBA Finals in eight of nine seasons as well as eight straight appearances. That kind of grind on a player eventually wears off, which we could see this year with the Lakers sitting with the No. 7 seed.
In the end, LeBron is the only player to surpass the 6,000 and 7,000 career playoff mark. For that, he should be considered as a top-two player in history. If LeBron can win more championships, the conversation towards the greatest could be started.
Credit for an idea: sogbasketball