Things tend to get a little tighter defensively in the NBA playoffs.

The fast breaks are few and far between and half-court execution becomes a necessity.

From the ABA/NBA merger in 1976-77 to 2022-23, NBA teams averaged 103.3 points per game during the regular season. In the postseason, that scoring average dropped to 100.5.

But for these great scorers, the turned-up intensity of the defensive end simply didn’t matter. They were going to get their points regardless.

Here’s a list of the NBA players who have the most points in a single game in the playoffs, starting with a name you might recognize.

1. 63 Points – Michael Jordan

April 20, 1986: Boston Celtics 135, Chicago Bulls 131 (2OT)

Jordan is to scoring across NBA playoff history what Wilt Chamberlain is to the regular-season highest-scoring game list.

The five-time NBA MVP scored 55 or more in a playoff game five times. Jordan’s 63-point masterpiece may have come in a double-overtime loss, but it also came against what some would consider the best team of all time.

The 1985-86 Boston Celtics went 67-15 in the regular season, and 40-1 at the Boston Garden, where Jordan was trying to lead the Chicago Bulls to an improbable win. He wasn’t able to, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

He connected on 22 of his 41 field-goal attempts and 19 of his 21 free throws. His 63 points matched the total of the two highest-scoring Celtics in the game (Larry Bird had 36 and Kevin McHale had 27).

most points scored at Boston

Chicago would be swept by Boston in that Eastern Conference series despite Jordan averaging 43.7 points. The Bulls were also swept by Boston the following year before finally getting a series win in 1988 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It was the first of many playoff series Jordan would win.

2. 61 – Elgin Baylor

April 14, 1962: Los Angeles Lakers 126, Boston Celtics 121

Not only did Baylor pour in 61 points, he also grabbed 22 rebounds as the Lakers took a 3-2 series lead on the Celtics in Game 5 of the 1962 NBA Finals.

Bill Russell, however, would have the last laugh as the Celtics took Game 6 in Los Angeles and Game 7 at home to win the title.

3. 57 – Donovan Mitchell

August 17, 2020: Denver Nuggets 135, Utah Jazz 125 (OT)

Like Jordan’s 63, Mitchell’s 57-point outburst came in a heartbreaking loss in a series his team would eventually lose.

The 2020 bubble playoffs gave fans desperate for basketball memories an exciting storyline in a first-round duel between Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell.

It started with a bang, with Mitchell going for 57 in the very first game while Murray getting 36 and the win. Mitchell went 19 of 33 from the field, 6 of 15 from the 3-point line and a perfect 13 of 13 on free throws. He also doled out seven assists.

For the series, Mitchell averaged 36.3 points on .529/.516/.948 shooting splits. But Murray came close to matching him, as he went for 31.6 points per game on .550/.533/.920 shooting splits while his team won an exciting seven-game series. It was a breakout series for both young stars, and Mitchell’s game one is still the second-highest scoring playoff game since 1963-64.

The Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Clippers but lost to LeBron James and the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. They’d win their first NBA title just three years later.

T-4. 56 – Jimmy Butler

April 24, 2023: Miami Heat 119, Milwaukee Bucks 114

Butler simply willed his team to a victory in Game 4 of the Heat’s 2023 first-round series with the Bucks. He finished with 56 points on 19-of-28 shooting to go along with nine rebounds.

He also went 15 of 18 from the field as the eighth-seeded Heat went up 3-1 on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the top-seeded Bucks.

T-4. 56 – Charles Barkley

May 4, 1994: Phoenix Suns 140, Golden State Warriors 133

We’ll start with Barkley’s big game here since we already touched on Jordan, who spoiled enough things for Chuck over the course of their respective careers.

Barkley destroyed the Warriors to help the Suns secure the sweep in 1994. It took him only 31 shots, of which he made 23, to amass his 56-point total. And he went 7 of 9 from the free-throw line. Barkley shot 27% from the 3-point line that season but hit 3 of 4 from 3 in that game because it was just that type of night.

After making the Finals the previous year, Phoenix would lose in a tough seven-game series in the following round to the eventual champion Houston Rockets.

T-4. 56 – Michael Jordan

April 29, 1992: Chicago Bulls 119, Miami Heat 114

Jordan put up his 56 points in a closing game in the first round as well, as the Bulls swept the Heat. Jordan and All-Star teammate Scottie Pippen combined for 87 points in that game, and the rest of the starters had 11 combined points.

The Bulls would march on to their second consecutive championship that year, a far cry from the first-round exit Jordan suffered when he had his 63-point playoff performance.

T-4. 56 – Wilt Chamberlain

March 22, 1962: Philadelphia Warriors 121, Syracuse Nationals 104

The great Wilt Chamberlain played all 48 minutes in Game 5 of the division semifinals, racking up his playoff high while pulling down 35 rebounds – just six off the playoff record he would set five years later.

It could have been worse for the Nationals, but Chamberlain only went 22 of 48 from the field and 12 of 22 from the free-throw line.

The Best of the Rest

  • T-8. 55 – Rick Barry, San Francisco Warriors vs. Philadelphia 76ers (April 18, 1967)
  • T-8. 55 – Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers vs. New Orleans Hornets (April 20, 2003)
  • T-8. 55 – Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Bullets (April 27, 1997)
  • T-8. 55 – Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (May 1, 1988)
  • T-8. 55 – Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls vs. Phoenix Suns (June 16, 1993)
  • T-8. 55 – Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets (June 1, 2021)
  • T-14. 54 – John Havlicek, Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks (April 1, 1973)
  • T-14. 54 – Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors (May 9, 2001)
  • T-14. 54 – Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks (May 31, 1993)
  • T-17. 53 – Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors vs. Syracuse Nationals (March 14, 1960)
  • T-17. 53 – Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets vs. Phoenix Suns (May 7, 2023)
  • T-17. 53 – Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards (May 2, 2017)
  • T-17. 53 – Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics (April 23, 1967)

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