THE NBA PLAYOFFS ARE OFF AND RUNNING, and already we have a Day 1 to remember. Luka Doncic left the game injured early, then returned to put up 42 points, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists, an all-time NBA record in a playoff debut. Jamal Murray had 36 points and 9 dimes for the Denver Nuggets earlier Monday, scoring 10 straight late to force overtime. And in the same game, Donovan Mitchell scored 57, highest in Utah Jazz franchise history and third most ever in the NBA playoffs.
Scoring is up across the NBA these days. Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic set franchise records in last year?s playoffs, and Mitchell probably won?t be the last to do so this year.
So who is each NBA franchise?s all-time leader for most points in a playoff game, and which teams are the next to see a new name at the top? Let?s take a little stroll through NBA history and go franchise by franchise?
2020 NBA Playoffs First Round Preview and Picks
We rank and preview every series in order of intrigue, plus picks for the playoffs ahead. Playoffs!!
Dominique Wilkins, 198650 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists vs Detroit
The Hawks were consistently very good for most of Dominique Wilkins?s time in Atlanta, but they played during an Eastern Conference dominated by the Celtics, then these Pistons, and eventually the Bulls.
This game came against the Bad Boy Pistons before they had put the final pieces together. Nique scored 50 on 28 shots, getting to the line 15 times. The Hawks went up 2?0 on Detroit and took them out in four, but Wilkins lost to Boston in five the following round. Nique had a few memorable games against those Celtics too.
A full 28 years earlier, Bob Pettit had a much more impressive 50-piece when the Hawks were still in St. Louis, adding 19 rebounds in the best playoff game of his Hall of Fame career.
John Havlicek, 197354 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists vs Atlanta
Surprise! No, Larry Legend does not have the Celtics playoff scoring record. Larry?s highest was 43, which John Havlicek also did three times.
Havlicek is remembered as a complimentary piece and All-Star role player on the Bill Russell title teams, but he didn?t stay Scottie Pippen forever. After Russell left, Hondo led Boston to two more titles without him on the court, stepping up his scoring and leading the Celtics repeatedly on deep, surprising underdog runs.
Havlicek was an all-time playoff great. He averaged 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists across 172 playoff games, never once losing in the first round and going a perfect 8?0 in the Finals.
It might surprise you to find that the Celtics are the most common opponent in this exercise, but it shouldn?t. Turns out opponents have had a whole lot of chances to play Boston in the playoffs.
Vince Carter, 200643 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists vs Miami
The Nets made the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons near the start of the century, but those teams were built on defense and slow, methodical play. Vince Carter came later and didn?t have as much help, but Vinsanity sure could score. Unfortunately, New Jersey lost this game.
Drazen Petrovic has the only other 40-piece for the Nets? for now. You gotta assume Kevin Durant and/or Kyrie Irving will join the list soon enough. Perhaps Caris LeVert will get there first.
Glen Rice, 199739 points, 5 rebounds, 0 assists at New York
The Hornets are one of only two NBA teams to never see a 40-point playoff performance. Kemba Walker?s highest was 37 in 2016, though he only played 11 playoff games with the franchise.
Glen Rice tops the list for the Hornets, and that feels about right. Rice took 23 shots and scored 39 points without recording a single assist. The man certainly knew his role. The Hornets lost the game.
Michael Jordan, 198663 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists at Boston
What, you were expecting Jimmy Butler?
Jordan?s 63 remains the gold standard in NBA playoff history, which makes what Donovan Mitchell did yesterday all the more remarkable. Jordan?s 63 also came in overtime, and like Spida, he was also 23 years old. And like Mitchell, Michael Jordan lost the game.
Of course, Jordan?s 63 came in his sophomore season, after missing most of the year injured, at the Boston Garden where the Celtics went 50?1 on the season en route to the NBA championship. It is one of the all time great individual efforts, and I wrote a full article remembering the incredible game.
Michael Jordan has, appropriately so, the 23 highest scoring Bulls playoff games of all time, along with five of the top 11 playoff games by any player, including games of 63, 61, and 56 (x3), plus five more 55?point games that just missed the list.
Turns out MJ was pretty good.
God Disguised as Michael Jordan: The 63-Point Playoff Game
Jordan dropped 63 on five Hall of Famers, nearly beating the Boston Celtics single-handedly. This is how it happened.
LeBron James, 201851 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists at Golden State
LeBron is pretty good too.
James has never been known as quite the same scorer as Jordan, but he has the top 14 Cleveland scoring games in the playoffs anyway.
This one was one of his all-time masterpieces. It came in Game 1 of the 2018 Finals against Kevin Durant and the Warriors. You may remember it as the J.R. Smith game.
These were the defending champion KD-Steph Warriors, while the Cavs had to win two Game 7s just to make the Finals. Remember, this team didn?t have Kyrie Irving anymore, and they weren?t getting anything from the guys they traded for either. This was a one-man effort, and 51/8/8 is a heck of an effort.
And he might?ve stolen the win too if it weren?t for that dastardly J.R.
Smith maddeningly dribbled out the clock at the end of a tie game, and Cleveland ran out of answers in overtime. LeBron punched a whiteboard after the game and broke his hand, and the Warriors went on to win another title.
Dirk Nowitzki, 200650 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists vs Phoenix
Nowitzki?s more iconic playoff run came five years later, when his Mavericks shocked LeBron?s Heat in the Finals for the first NBA championship in Dallas franchise history.
But Dirk made the Finals in 2006 too, and they played Dwyane Wade and the Heat that season too. The Mavs were favored that time, but this 50-point game came one round earlier against Steve Nash?s Suns. Tied 2?2 in the WCF, Dirk dropped 50 points on 26 shots, hitting five of six threes and getting to the line 18 times. The Mavs knocked Phoenix out the following game but went on to lose the Finals.
Nikola Jokic, 201943 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists at San Antonio
Jokic was an absolute monster in last year?s playoffs.
He averaged 25 points, 13 boards, and 8-and-a-half assists in 40 minutes a game, taking two series to Game 7 before bowing out. This game basically matched those numbers with a few more shots, a Game 6 loss to the Spurs. It was just enough to pass Carmelo Anthony and Alex English in Denver lore, though it feels like it may not last long.
Dave Bing, 196844 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists vs Boston
The Pistons have plenty of playoff success in franchise history but not much individual success, despite what all the Isiah Thomas stans would have you believe. Isiah?s playoff high was 43, the only other Pistons game in the 40s, though he does have nine of the team?s 17 games at 35+ points.
Bing was one of the game?s great chuckers in the 70s, consistently scoring in the mid 20s on roughly 50% true shooting before we knew that was a thing. These 44 points came on 38 shots in a closeout loss to Bill Russell and the Celtics, but you can hardly blame him for chucking. The rest of his teammates shot under 30%.
Golden State Warriors
Wilt Chamberlain, 196256 points, 35 rebounds, 1 assist vs Syracuse
You knew Wilt was bound to make this list somewhere. This is Chamberlain?s only appearance on the list. He took 70 shots that day ? 48 from the field and 22 at the line.
And honestly, folks probably didn?t even think this was a remarkable game. After all, this was 1962, and Wilt averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds for the entire season. This was Chamberlain?s 23rd best scoring game that season.
The Warriors list is a tough one to crack. Kevin Durant?s 50 last season is outside of the top four, and Steph Curry has yet to crack the top 10. When you?ve got those two, Wilt, Rick Barry, and others, there?s plenty of scoring to go around.
The Official 2020 NBA Bubble Awards
The seeding games are over. So who wins Bubble MVP, All-Bubble, Rookie and Coach of the Bubble, and more?
Hakeem Olajuwon, 198749 points, 25 rebounds, 2 assists at Seattle
You probably remember Hakeem from his back-to-back championships in the non-Jordan 90s years, but Olajuwon was more dominant individually when he first entered the league in the 80s, when he didn?t have much help.
This was a monster performance by Hakeem for the underdog Rockets, who pushed Seattle to double overtime on the road but couldn?t finish the job. Hakeem played 53 minutes and scored 49 on 33 shots, adding two steals and six blocks for good measure. It wasn?t enough, and the Rockets were eliminated.
You gotta assume Hakeem will be eliminated from this list soon too. Is there any way James Harden doesn?t put up 50 sometime this postseason?
Reggie Miller, 200041 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist vs Milwaukee
You might not have guessed the Pacers would have the fourth lowest single-game total on the list, and they wouldn?t if we were counting the ABA. Both Roger Brown and George McGinnis bested this line three times each, with Brown holding the franchise record at 53 points in an ABA Finals win, the first of three Pacers championships in four years.
Reggie Miller never won that ring, but he did make the Finals this same season and needed every point here in a one-point win. He also hung 41 on Philadelphia one year.
You?d never guess who?s next on the list for the NBA Pacers. Seriously, I?d give you 25 guesses and you wouldn?t get it.
It was Anthony Johnson, with 40 points in 2006. Yep. That happened.
Los Angeles Clippers
Bob McAdoo, 197550 points, 21 rebounds, 1 assist vs Washington
You probably would have guessed Blake Griffin or Chris Paul for the Clippers, but they both peaked at 35. Lou Williams?s 36 actually beat both of them, and you know Kawhi Leonard and/or Paul George will top that number this year.
But you have to go back further in time to the Buffalo Braves to get the answer for this franchise. Bob McAdoo was a monster scorer early on before his body betrayed him. He has nine of the top 12 all-time scoring games in franchise history, including these impressive 50 points against Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, and Washington?s #1 defense.
Los Angeles Lakers
Elgin Baylor, 196261 points, 22 rebounds, 1 assist at Boston
Yes, both of the top scoring playoff games in NBA history came against the Boston Celtics, and both of them at the Garden.
Elgin Baylor was a beast in his early years before the injuries mounted, and he peaked in 1962. Baylor averaged 38.3 PPG that season, highest by any non-Wilt player in NBA history. He went above and beyond here with one of the greatest Finals performances of all time, dropping 61 on 22-of-46 shooting plus 19 at the line. The Lakers won the game but lost the war, with the Celtics winning the title in seven.
You know how two NBA franchises have never had a 40-point playoff game?
The Lakers have 77, and counting once LeBron James and Anthony Davis get started. They?ll hope to add their names to a top 25 list populated by some of the all-time greats, who only need one name: Elgin, West, Kobe, Mikan, Shaq, Kareem, Wilt, and Magic.
The Only NBA Game Ever Called on Account of Hugs
The 1992 All-Star Game was one for the ages, a Magical night no fan of basketball or comeback stories will ever forget?
Mike Conley, 201735 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists vs San Antonio
And then there?s the Grizzlies at the other end of the spectrum.
Isn?t it crazy that it?s 2020 and an entire NBA franchise has yet to clear 35 points in a playoff game by any individual? Heck, Conley could?ve had this game yesterday on the first day of the playoffs and it would have been like the third or fourth best game of the day.
Conley was masterful in this series against the Spurs, at his absolute peak, and this was his finest work in a Game 4 win to tie the series. San Antonio won the next two, but experts still say this was as close as Mike Conley ever got to being an NBA All-Star.
LeBron James, 201449 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists at Brooklyn
LeBron is one of only two names to make this list twice, though he?s got his work cut out if he wants to beat Elgin and join it a third time.
The Heat were on their last legs in 2014, on their fourth straight Finals run, much more of a one-man show that last year than you may remember. James scored 40+ three times with the Heat, while Dwyane Wade has seven of the other top 10 scoring games.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 197046 points, 25 rebounds, 2 assists vs Philadelphia
It?s no surprise to see Kareem atop this list, but the number isn?t as high as we?d think.
This was Kareem?s rookie season and his first playoff series ever, and his 46/25 came in a closeout win over Philadelphia. The NBA?s all-time scoring leader only led the league in scoring in two seasons, his second and third, but this is the highest total ever for any rookie not named Wilt.
It also feels like only a matter of time before Giannis Antetokounmpo takes his place atop the list. Giannis hit 41 last season, behind only two Kareem games. He?s coming.
Sam Cassell, 200440 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists vs Denver
The Timberwolves are third lowest on this list, which is about right for this forlorn franchise, but they?ll always have 2004.
Sam Cassell got the playoffs started with a bang for Minnesota, dropping 40 in a Game 1 win. The Wolves went on to beat the Nuggets in 5, then Cassell dropped 40 again three weeks later and helped Minnesota knock off the Kings in 7 before succumbing to the Karl Malone and Gary Payton Lakers.
Sadly, those remain the only two playoff series win in Minnesota franchise history. And because you?re wondering? Kevin Garnett?s career playoff high was 35, one year prior.
New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis, 201847 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist vs Portland
That?s exactly as many series wins as the New Orleans franchise, which counts the Pelicans from 2014 to present and the Hornets for 11 years before that.
This game came in one of them, and you remember watching. Davis scored 47 while Jrue Holiday added 41 in the same game, both of them 15-of-23 from the field in a close win that needed every bucket to close out a sweep of the Blazers. Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard meet again tonight.
New York Knicks
Bernard King, 198446 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists at Detroit
Bernard King will always be a New York legend for these 1984 playoffs.
This was the second game of the playoffs for New York, a 46-point effort by King that came up short in a road loss. Three days later, King put up 46 again at Madison Square Garden and got the win. He had 41 the next game, another loss, then 44 in a win-or-go-home Game 5 to knock the Pistons out. And then he dropped 43 and 44 on Boston in the next series too, in one of the all-time great playoff scoring runs.
The following season, King was leading the league at 32.9ppg, including a memorable 60-point Christmas game at the Garden. Three months later, he destroyed his right leg and was never the same player again.
An absolute shame.
1992 Dream Team Gold-Medal Game vs Croatia: A Scouting Report
Toni Kukoc was really good!! But, spoiler alert: Team USA won anyway.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook, 201751 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists at Houston
This was Westbrook?s MVP season, in which he averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists the year after Kevin Durant abandoned him.
The joy ride ended quickly in the playoffs as the Thunder lost in five to the Rockets, but don?t blame Russ. He averaged 37/12/11 and had this monster 41-point triple-double, then added a 47/11/9 game six days later.
Oklahoma City lost both games, but Houston obviously liked what they saw.
Dwight Howard, 201146 points, 19 rebounds, 1 assist vs Atlanta
Nope, not Shaq or Penny or TMac. It?s Dwight Howard at the top of the list for the Magic, scoring 46 points on just 23 shots in a Game 1 loss.
Okay fine, it?s also Tracy McGrady. McGrady scored 46 too, in a 2003 loss. That was the closest McGrady ever got to winning a playoff series. He lost his 46-point effort in Game 2 but the 8-seed Magic went up 3?1, and McGrady told a reporter, ?It feels good to get into the second round.?
The Pistons won the next three games by 61 combined.
Allen Iverson, 200355 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists vs New Orleans
Were you expecting someone else?
Iverson has nine of Philadelphia?s top 12 franchise scoring games in the playoffs. He?s joined there by just one Wilt Chamberlain appearance, Billy Cunningham, and some dude named Lee Shaffer.
Iverson?s 55 came on just 32 shots, a rare efficient performance for one of the game?s great scorers. Iverson averaged over 30 PPG in four straight playoff appearances at the turn of the century, with this game smack dab in the middle.
Charles Barkley, 199456 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists at Golden State
Barkley?s finest playoff game ever was against Golden State, a monster 56/14 line in a crazy 140?133 win. He added four assists, three threes, and three steals.
This was Barkley?s only 50-point playoff game ever, but it was not his only top effort for the Phoenix Suns. Despite all the success of the high-flying Seven Seconds or Less Suns, Barkley has 23 of Phoenix?s 31 best scoring playoff games ever.
Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard, 201950 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists vs Oklahoma City
Yeahhh, you remember this one.
Dame dropped 50 on the Thunder in front of a crazed Rip City, a top-25 all-time playoff game. His final shot came from WELL behind the arc, over Paul George?s outstretched arms, a walk-off three pointer to end OKC?s season as he waved goodbye to the Thunder.
It was Dame?s tenth three of the game and his second walk-off playoff series winning shot, and now he?s a Bubble MVP too. The man is a legend.
Oscar Robertson, 196343 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists at Boston
The Sacramento Kings were once the Cincinnati Royals, and that was the team Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double for in 1962.
This game came one season later and was Oscar?s second 43-point effort of the postseason. It was also a triple-double and came in a road Game 7 against Bill Russell?s Celtics, but it was not enough. The Royals lost 142?131 and were eliminated, and Oscar never got that deep in the playoffs with Cincinnati again.
San Antonio Spurs
George Gervin, 197846 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists vs Washington
Young bucks may have expected Kawhi Leonard or Tim Duncan here, and don?t pat yourself on the back too hard if you guessed David Robinson instead. Duncan and Admiral never cleared 41, dominating the game in other ways.
But the Iceman was a transcendent scorer a few decades earlier for the Spurs. This was one of six seasons Gervin topped 40 in the playoffs if you count his ABA years in San Antonio, but 46 was his peak. All the better that it came against a great Washington Bullets team that went on to win the championship.
Vince Carter, 200150 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists vs Philadelphia
Remember how LeBron is one of only two names to make this list twice? Vince Carter remains the other one.
If you?re thinking 2001 Raptors-Sixers rings a bell, you?re right. It was an epic seven-game battle in the Eastern semis, with Vince and Allen Iverson trading buckets all series. Vince averaged 30.4 for the series, including this Game 2 gem, with Iverson at 33.7.
Carter left the series to graduate from UNC the day before Game 7, then missed a series-winning buzzer beater as Philly won by one, and Toronto fans never forgave him for it.
Kawhi Leonard put up 45 on last year?s championship run, the only other 40-point game in Toronto history. Raptors fans are a bit fonder of him.
Donovan Mitchell, 202057 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists vs Seattle
This obviously was the impetus for the article today.
Donovan Mitchell was magnificent in Game 1 against the Nuggets, undoubtedly the best game of his young career. He made six threes and 13 free throws, putting up 57 points on 33 shots and single-handedly keeping the Jazz in the game with one spectacular play after another before ultimately coming up short in overtime.
Did you know you were watching something special? Spida?s 57 is the third highest playoff scoring game of all time.
Mitchell replaces Karl Malone on the list, and an old Malone at that. In 2000, at age 36, the Mailman dropped 50 points for his career high.
Elvin Hayes, 197546 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists vs Buffalo
Elvin Hayes has been on the losing end for a few of these games, so it?s only fair that he gets his shine too.
In the same series that McAdoo dropped 50 on him, Hayes responded the very next game with 46 points and 12 rebounds of his own, adding 5 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks for good measure. Washington won the game by four and went on to win the series in seven, so Elvin had the last laugh. ?
Follow Brandon on Medium or @wheatonbrando for more sports, television, humor, and culture. Visit the rest of Brandon?s writing archives here.