April 20, 1986: Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls’ budding superstar, scores the most points in NBA Playoffs history with a 63-point performance in the Boston Garden. He did it against a Celtics team with five future Hall of Famers—and Boston did indeed prevail in double-overtime, 135-131 (and in the series). Jordan was in only his second year in the NBA and had missed 64 games in the regular season with a broken foot. He broke the postseason record of one-time College of Idaho Coyote Elgin Baylor, who scored 61 points for the L.A. Lakers in the 1962 Finals against the Celtics.
ESPN Stats & Information video tracked Jordan’s 63-point game and found these nuggets. Virtually all of Jordan’s offense against the Celtics came off the dribble. He was 12-of-22 on pull-up jumpers, 8-of-14 on drives to the basket and 2-of-5 on other shots. Jordan attempted 41 field goals against the Celtics and virtually all of them came with a hand in his face. Only three of his 41 shots were uncontested. He found himself matched up against Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson and All-Star Danny Ainge for most of the game. Jordan scored 42 of his 63 points against the duo.
The outburst was the third highest-scoring game of Jordan’s career. Tops for M.J. was his 69 points against Cleveland in March of 1990, a year before the Bulls won the first of their six NBA championships. Jordan was 23-of-37 from the floor that night and even pulled down 18 rebounds. Second was a 64-point blast against Orlando in January of 1993. That was in the middle of Chicago’s first three-peat campaign, and Jordan was having another great season. However, he would finish third in NBA MVP voting behind Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns and Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets.
Former Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, now a Cleveland Cavalier, is third behind Jordan and Baylor in single-game playoff scoring. Mitchell put up 57 points in a game against the Denver Nuggets during the 2020 NBA Playoffs in the August COVID bubble. Mitchell also scored 51 six days later against the Nuggets on a night when Denver’s Jamal Murray scored 50. Rounding out the top five single-game playoff outings of all-time are three 56-point performances—from Barkley in 1994, Jordan in 1992 and Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors in 1962.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)