The best NBA playoff games of all time have two things in common: they were unpredictable and nail-biting. The atmosphere and intensity of the postseason are unmatched compared to the regular season. After all, teams give their all on their quest to win the NBA championship. For players and coaches, this is the biggest stage of their careers.
Whether it’s the first round, second round, or conference finals, the postseason produced some of the most entertaining NBA playoff games ever.
Best NBA playoff games
We’ve seen in the playoffs some players putting their team on their back and putting up monstrous individual performances. Some of the greatest upsets and comebacks of all time can be found in the postseason. Quitting isn’t simply an option in the playoffs.
Here are some of the ten greatest NBA playoff games of all time (excluding NBA Finals) that you need to watch:
Cavs vs Pistons Game 5, 2007 ECF
2007 was LeBron James‘ first crusade to the NBA Finals. What’s noteworthy about this is that he carried a bunch of nobodies in the finals. Cleveland’s next best player was Zydrunas Ilgauskas who averaged 12 points per game that year. It’s simply insane.
In James’ first trip to the finals, Game 5 between the Cavs and Pistons was definitely the most memorable one as it went to double overtime.
At 22 years old, he went head to head with Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, and Chris Webber. James scored the last 25 points for Cleveland against some of the notable veterans in the league. He finished with 48 points and 9 rebounds.
This game propelled James into superstardom and easily one of his greatest individual playoff performances.
Sixers vs Raptors Game 7, 2019 second round
The 2019 second-round matchup between the Sixers and Raptors will always be remembered as one of the best NBA playoff games in recent memory. It went to seven games and Game 7 was the most iconic one.
Both teams gave their all in this game. After all, this was a do-or-die game on which team will advance to the ECF. It was a back-and-forth battle right from the start. With 4 seconds remaining, Kawhi Leonard hit a fadeaway jumper at the far right of the court over Joel Embiid. After bouncing a couple of times, it went it!
It is one of the clutchest NBA shots in playoff history you will ever see.
Leonard finished with 41 points and 8 rebounds.
Warriors vs Clippers Game 2, 2019 first round
The Clippers were known for their toughness. After all, they had “dogs” like Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell. Their resiliency was well documented in Game 2 of the first round against the Warriors.
The Warriors were on fire in the first half. It seemed that the Warriors were going to close out the Clippers when they built that huge lead.
However, Los Angeles stormed the second half and erased a 31-point deficit—the largest comeback in NBA playoff history. Lou Williams led the charge and dropped 36 points and 11 assists. Other guys like Harrell, Beverley, and Gallinari stepped up defensively and offensively as well. This is one of the best NBA playoff games you’ll ever witness.
Blazers vs Nuggets Game 3, 2019 second round
Game 3 of the second-round series between the Blazers and Nuggets was historic as it had the most overtimes (4OT) in NBA history.
Fans who watched this game at Moda Center were lucky to witness the longest playoff game ever. This was the first quadruple overtime playoff game in 66 years since the Celtics vs Nationals in the 50s. Crazy! It could’ve gone to fifth overtime if Jokic made both his freethrows.
CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 41 points while Jokic tallied a massive 33 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists for Denver. This quadruple overtime thriller was one of the top NBA playoff moments.
Lakers vs Suns Game 4, 2006 first round
Game 4 was one of the best NBA playoff games in Lakers’ history. Players from both teams displayed their unwillingness to go down in clutch time especially Kobe Bryant.
The reigning MVP, Steve Nash, met Bryant in the first round of the playoffs, and it was Game 4 that stood out. We all remember Kobe’s late-game heroics in this game as he hit two clutch shots at the end of regulation and in overtime. It was one of the clutchest NBA shots ever. His postgame celebration was iconic as well.
Bryant tallied 24 points and 8 assists while Nash dropped 22 points and 11 assists.
Celtics vs Pistons Game 5, 1987 ECF
Now let’s travel back in time to the 80s. Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and Pistons was one of the best NBA playoff games in history.
In clutch time, Detroit led by 1 point and decided to quickly make an inbound pass instead of calling a timeout.
This resulted in Larry Bird stealing the pass and dishing it to Dennis Johnson for the game-winning layup. The clutch steal by Bird was one of the greatest NBA playoff moments you’ll ever see. Bird finished with a near triple-double—36 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists.
Warriors vs Thunder Game 6, 2016 WCF
The Warriors and Thunder were two of the best offensive teams in the league back then. Game 6 was pivotal for Golden State as they were trailing the series 3-2.
The Thunder also had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook carrying the offensive load. It was an offensive onslaught right out of the gates. Thompson was automatic from three as he dropped 41 points and a playoff career record of 11 threes. The win resulted for the momentum to shift back in Golden State’s favor.
Heat vs Celtics Game 6, 2012 ECF
Game 6 between the Heat vs Celtics was arguably LeBron James’ best playoff game ever. It is at this game when his legacy was on the line, and he delivered.
The Celtics led the series 3-2 against the Heat. It was Boston’s chance to finally dethrone Miami as the kings of the East. However, James had other ideas. He was locked in right from the start of the game and singlehandedly put the Heat on his back. This was pivotal to shift back the momentum to their side. James dropped a monstrous 45 points and 15 rebounds on a crazy 73% on the field.
This is one of the most entertaining NBA playoff games ever as we witnessed James’ greatness.
Clippers vs Spurs Game 7, 2015 first round
The dogfight first-round series between the Clippers and Spurs came to an end in a stunning fashion. Game 7 was back and forth up until the final buzzer—having an astonishing 31 lead changes and 16 ties.
The defending champions had to rely on Tim Duncan‘s stellar performance on the low block all game long. He led the Spurs with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
But the Clippers had other plans. Chris Paul took things into his own hands in clutch time—banking a floater over Duncan for the game-winner. Paul finished with 27 points and 6 assists. CP3’s game-winner was one of the top NBA playoff moments of all time.
Bulls vs Celtics Game 6, 2009 first round
The Bulls vs Celtics series was back and forth. There were clutch plays after clutch plays all series long. Their first-round matchup was one of the greatest NBA playoff series of all time. It went to seven games but it was Game 6 that stood out.
The oohs and aahs in the United Center were loudly heard in this game as it went to triple overtime. The highlight of the night went to Joakim Noah with his clutch steal and fastbreak dunk. Ray Allen dropped a playoff career-high 51 points for the Celtics. He was clutch and on fire beyond the arc—hitting 9 three-pointers.
This game was one of the best NBA playoff games ever.