Some of the best games come from the NBA playoffs. The stakes are bigger. The games mean more. In these situations, it's winning or go home, which prompts the best performance from many players that make the tournament. Over the years, we have seen MVP-caliber players carry their sensational regular season over into the playoffs.
For some of these players, making the playoffs is a yearly ritual. They have padded their stats as first-round qualifiers to continue adding to their total from making repeated NBA Finals appearances. Either way, some of the best players are on this list, which is why they are the ones leading all active players in playoff points.
10. Carmelo Anthony - 1,840
In Anthony's early years, making the playoffs was a yearly routine. He helped guide the Denver Nuggets to the playoffs in each season from 2004 to 2010. The Nuggets made it as far as the Western Conference Finals in 2009. That season, Anthony dropped 41 points against the Dallas Mavericks in the second round and then 39 points in the opening round of the conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. The following season, he scored 42 points in the opening round against the Utah Jazz, a total that he matched while as a member of the New York Knicks.
Anthony's number should be higher, but he missed the playoffs from 2014 to 2017 as a member of the Knicks. He returned for a brief stint with the Thunder and played with the Trail Blazers last season, showing vintage Melo with 27 points in the team's final game of the first round. At 36 years old, watching Anthony go for 40 points is long gone, but he remains a top-10 playoff icon.
9. Dwight Howard - 1,853
Howard did most of his damage while with the Orlando Magic. Howard led the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 when he was a clear No. 1 option. His career-high came in his final season with the Magic, when he scored 46 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks in 2011. Howard's offensive production dipped when he played with Kobe Bryant for one season in 2012 before returning to his original self with the Houston Rockets.
Since 2017, Howard hasn't been seeing as the traditional scoring big. He was regulated to a role player with the Hawks and then was primarily used as a defensive stopper for the Lakers on route to their championship season. His best game in nearly four years was when he scored 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Denver Nuggets in the conference finals. Now with Philly, Howard remains a bench player but is likely going to be due to at least one game where he pops off.
8. Chris Paul - 2,282
Who can forget Paul's 41 points in the Game 5 sealer against the Utah Jazz in 2018? What about his 35 points in his first playoff appearance with New Orleans? We could talk about his triple-double in last year's Game 7 loss to the Rockets in what was a miraculous playoff series for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Paul has done just about everything in the playoffs except make the NBA Finals. The Phoenix Suns are the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. He will look to build his resume in 2021 and potentially take his fifth franchise to the second round or better.
7. Klay Thompson - 2,372
In 2016, there was once a stretch of three straight games that Thompson connected on seven or more three-point field goal attempts. That took place during the first and second-round playoff series with the Rockets and Trail Blazers. Then, he scored his career-high in points with 41 against the Thunder in the conference finals.
In Thompson's last playoff appearance, the 2019 NBA Finals with the Toronto Raptors, he had helped stave off elimination for the Warriors with 26 points in a 106-105 win in Game 5. However, Thompson suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and departed with 30 points midway through the third quarter. The Warriors lost Game 6 and the series with a 114-110 defeat. As it stands, Thompson is third all-time in career three-pointers (374), trailing only Steph Curry (470) and Ray Allen (385).
6. Kawhi Leonard - 2,531
Speaking of the Raptors, Leonard's game-winning shot in Game 7 over the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs will go down as an all-time highlight on YouTube. The sight of Joel Embiid crying off the floor has been a meme generated ever since. That's what Leonard has done to opponents over the year as the two-time NBA Finals MVP is one of the greatest closers we have seen in the last decade.
His records speak for himself. In Game 6 of the 2014 Western Conference Finals, Leonard led San Antonio past OKC with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He then scored 22 points and added 10 rebounds in the Game 5 clincher over LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the Finals. During the Philly series, he scored 45, 39, and 41 points in a single series. As the Clippers look to make a long playoff run, the center of production will be centered around Leonard.
5. Russell Westbrook - 2,632
Most might remember when Westbrook was a young pup with the 2012 OKC Thunder in the NBA Finals against LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh and the Heat. However, it didn't stop the young 22-year old scoring 43 points. Westbrook is a triple-double machine and afraid of nobody. As he got older, the highlights grew in quantities.
In 2017, Westbrook scored a career-high 51 points against the Rockets in the first round. The following year he scored 45 and 46 points in back-to-back games against the Utah Jazz. While it appears that the mileage on the tires is starting to show, we likely won't see Westbrook and the Washington Wizards in the playoffs this season. For all he has done in the past, it's a real shame.
4. Steph Curry - 2,968
As previously mentioned, Curry is the all-time leader in three-point field goals in the playoffs. Assuming that the Warriors make the playoffs this year, Curry will add to that total and likely get it close to 490. If not this season, it will be next year when the Warriors are fully healthy, but Curry has a chance to become the first player ever to record 500 career threes in the playoffs.
Curry will likely score his 3,000th career playoff point. Only 26 others players have accomplished that feat. Fun fact about Curry. He has only scored 4o or more points once in his playoff career. The last time he accomplished that was in Game 3 of the NBA Finals in 2019 when he scored his career-high of 47 points.
3. James Harden - 3,009
Harden was the last player to eclipse over 3,000 points last year in the playoffs. Harden hasn't made the NBA Finals since the Thunder ran in 2012. Despite being known as an effective scorer, Harden has a history of not being able to close out in clutch situations. He has scored over 40 points seven times in his career, including a 45-point effort against the Warriors in the conference finals in 2015, which was the Rockets' lone win in the series.
Harden has played like an MVP this season after being traded to the Nets. He has also only played in the Western Conference for his career, so that makes his work even more impressive. It will be interesting to see what his stats look like as he plays watered-down opponents in the first round instead of traditional opponents like the Thunder, Mavericks, or Lakers.
2. Kevin Durant - 4,043
When Durant was a youngster, it only took him two playoff games to finish with more than 30 points. In 2010, Durant scored 32 points against Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and the Los Angeles Lakers, and a star was born. The following season, Durant scored 41 points in the first-round opener against the Nuggets. What Durant has done in the playoffs up to this point has been masterful.
Durant won a Finals MVP in 2017 after scoring outputs of 38, 33, 31, 35, and 39 against the Cavaliers. In 2018, he won another MVP with scoring outputs of 26 points in Game 1 and Game 2. Then in Game 3, he finished with 43 points and 13 rebounds, and then closed the series sweep with 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. Durant is finally looking healthy, which means the Nets could be in for a fun ride. Durant is only two points away from passing Tony Parker for 10th on the all-time playoff list.
1. LeBron James - 7,491
LeBron is the all-time leader in playoff points, which shouldn't come as a surprise given how many times he has made the postseason in his career. He has a very wide margin over second-place Michael Jordan and his 5,987 points. Last year, LeBron scored 580 total points en route to the Lakers winning the NBA championship. At 36 years old, LeBron would have to score around 500 points or more for the next five seasons to get to 10,000, which seems like an unattainable mark.
Though, we can appreciate some of his best moments. If we wanted to lay out all of them, it would take hours to put together. How do you choose? LeBron once scored 51 points in a loss to the Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals. In 2016, when LeBron led Cleveland to their first NBA championship, he scored back-to-back 41-point games in the Finals. In his first attempt in 2015, he scored over 40 points three times. Going back to his younger years, he scored 41 points in his third playoff game. Then, one week later, LeBron scored 45 points.
The Lakers are going to need to be fully healthy if they are going to defend their title. The team should be 100% in about a month. If LeBron is healthy, we could see another masterful fun. After all, he proved he still has it when he scored 40 points in Game 5 of the NBA Finals last year. Who knows what 36-year old LeBron has in store for us next.