A trait usually associated with big men, good shot blocking is vital to any team hoping to dominate on the defensive end. And some of the league’s bests at the skill have dominated all the way to the most blocks in a regular-season or playoff game.
The earliest example of this would be perennial All-Star Bill Russell leading the Boston Celtics to 11 rings in the late 1950s and ’60s on the back of his defense. But the NBA didn’t officially begin recording blocks until the start of the 1973-74 season, which is why you won’t be seeing the late Hall of Famer in the record books.
At the same time, most of the single-game block records in NBA history were set before Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors forced the league to eventually give an increased emphasis to distance shooting.
Let’s take a look.
Most Blocks in a Regular-Season Game
17 – Elmore Smith, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers (Oct. 28, 1973)
Despite only playing for the Lakers for two years, Smith made quite an impact on the defensive end in 1973-74. This game against the Trail Blazers early on in his Lakers career was pretty indicative of just how incredible of a rim-protector he was for the team.
Smith terrorized a team bereft of star power and just in its fourth season in the NBA on the way to 17 blocks (11 of which came in the first half, which is also an all-time record). He added another 16 rebounds and 12 points to rack up the third triple-double of his career as the Lakers earned a comfortable 111-98 win.
Smith would record at least 10 blocks in seven games that season and led the league with 4.9 blocks per game.
His 393 total blocks in 1973-74 are the third most by a player in a single season.
Best of the Rest: Manute Bol averaged more blocks than points in eight of the 10 seasons that he played in the NBA and came close to breaking Smith’s record on multiple occasions. The most notable of those are his two outings of 15 blocks each while with the Washington Bullets. The first of which came against the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 25, 1986, in Bol’s rookie season and the second was against Indiana on Feb. 26, 1987. Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant big in recent history, equaled Bol’s 15 blocks against the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) in his sophomore season. Playing for the Orlando Magic, O’Neal stuffed the stat sheet with 15 blocks, 28 rebounds and 24 points in a 87-85 win over the Nets on Nov. 20, 1993.
Most Blocks in a Game by a Rookie
15 – Manute Bol, Washington Bullets vs. Atlanta Hawks (Jan. 25, 1986)
Most Team Blocks in a Game
23 – Toronto Raptors vs. Atlanta Hawks (March 23, 2001)
Most Blocks in a Playoff Game
10 – Three Players Tied
As many as three players hold the record for most denying field-goal attempts in the postseason. The first to reach the milestone in the NBA playoffs is Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton, who had 10 blocks against the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of their first-round series on April 26, 1985. Houston went on to win the game, though.
Having been on the receiving end of one such game, Hakeem Olajuwon would go on to match Eaton’s feat in a first-round clash against the Lakers in 1990. In Game 2 of the series that took place on April 29, 1990, The Dream logged a triple-double that included 10 blocks, 11 points and 11 rebounds. But the Lakers would go on to win before eventually sweeping the Rockets 4-0.
One of the crucial rim-protectors for the Lakers in their back-to-back title wins in 2009 and 2010, Andrew Bynum is the last player to match the record. Bynum set the pace in the Lakers’ first postseason game against the Denver Nuggets on April 29, 2012, with a triple-double that included 13 points and 10 rebounds to go with the 10 blocks. The Lakers would win that game 103-88.
Best of the Rest: As many as 12 players have gone on to make nine blocks in a playoff game, including former Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bol, Olajuwon, Derrick Coleman, Greg Ostertag, Alonzo Mourning, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard (twice), Serge Ibaka, Roy Hibbert and Robert Williams. Olajuwon is the only player to have both 10- (against the Lakers in 1990) and nine-block (against the Los Angeles Clippers in 1993) performances in the playoffs. Williams had the most such effort on May 22, 2021. The Celtics didn’t have many positives in the 104-93 loss to Kevin Durant, James Harden and the Nets in Game 1 of their first-round series, but Williams did his part and blocked five shots in the fourth quarter alone.
Most Blocks in a Playoff Game by a Rookie
9 – Manute Bol, Washington Bullets at Philadelphia 76ers (April 18, 1986)
Most Team Blocks in a Playoff Game
20 – Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks (April 5, 1981)
Most Blocks in an NBA Finals Game
9 – Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Game 4 in 2009)
He may have struggled to hit his free throws, but Howard led the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 on the back of his defensive prowess. With the title on the line, Orlando faced Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the Lakers on the league’s biggest stage.
The Magic went down 2-1 in the series before Howard blocked nine shots in regulation time during Game 4, denying both Gasol and Trevor Ariza thrice apiece. Three of Howard’s blocks came in the last five minutes of the game as the Magic tried to defend a slender lead in the clutch.
The Lakers would, however, eventually force overtime and then go on to win the game before sealing the series at home in Game 5.
Best of the Rest: After his run with the Miami Heat, LeBron James had perhaps the most memorable rejection with his chase-down block with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. However, he’s not on this list. As many as five players hold the record of eight blocks in a Finals game. The first to do it was Bill Walton, whose efforts in Game 6 of the 1977 Finals on June 5, 1977, helped the Blazers clinch their first championship over the Philadelphia 76ers. Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs is the only other player to record eight or more blocks in a series-clinching game in the NBA Finals, doing so in Game 6 against the Nets on June 15, 2003. Duncan had a near quadruple-double in the game, finishing with 21 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in addition to the eight blocks. The other three NBA players to record eight blocks in a Finals game are Hakeem Olajuwon (June 5, 1986), who finished his career with the Toronto Raptors, Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks (June 17, 1994) and Shaquille O’Neal of the Lakers (June 8, 2001).