When talking about a career where he’s already rung up 50 or more points 10 times before his 30th birthday, it’s sort of an exercise in wretched excess to even try to rank LeBron James’ best games. Like picking out your favorite bauble among the crown jewels. Or the best Ferrari in the showroom.
Nevertheless, here’s one try:
May 31, 2007 — Cavaliers 109, Pistons 107 (2OT) (Game 5 Eastern Conference finals)
48 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals
It’s not always the final total that makes the difference, but the timing, the situation, the opponent and this one had it all.
Against the perennial Eastern Conference power and veteran lineup of the Pistons, with the series tied at 2-2, James was unstoppable in the fourth quarter and overtime at The Palace.
He scored over Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince. He drove to the basket on Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace. He made rainbow 3-pointers, step-back jumpers while falling out of bounds and even made nifty move behind his back before stabbing in another dagger.
A 22-year-old James scored Cleveland’s last 25 points and 29 of the final 30 in performance that Steve Kerr on TNT called “positively Jordanesque.”
June 7, 2012 — Heat 98, Celtics 79 (Game 6 Eastern Conference finals)
45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists
It was the game that was supposed to define James as one of the game’s greatest individual talents and yet classic underachievers. At least that’s what the critics were saying as the Heat took the floor amid the hostile environment of the TD Garden in Boston. The Heat had blown a 2-0 lead in the series by losing three in a row to the Celtics and this was the game when James’ reputation would be buried.
Instead it was LeBron who did the burying, hitting 19 of 25 shots and shoveling 45 points onto the heads of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and all of the storied Celtics tradition.
“He played amazing,” said Dwyane Wade. “He was locked in from the beginning of the game like I’ve never seen him before.”
After two days of questions about the Heat’s future and his own history, James answered by scoring 30 points before halftime.
“I hope now you guys can stop talking about LeBron and how he doesn’t play in big games,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He was pretty good tonight. So we can put that to bed and go play Game 7.”
June 20, 2013 — Heat 95, Spurs 88 (Game 7 NBA Finals)
37 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals
There have literally been dozens of games where he’s scored more points. But his was vintage James dropping the hammer on the greatest season in Heat franchise history and clinching back-to-back NBA championships by nailing a jumper inside the final minute that put down the Spurs for good.
He had started the series slow, struggling on offense. But James finished with at least 25 points in the last four games of the series and was clinically efficient all over the court during the clincher. He matched his playoff high by making five 3-pointers and also did a lockdown job defensively on point guard Tony Parker, the ignition spark to everything the Spurs tried to do on offense.
So much of everyone’s memory of the series lingers on the dramatics at the end of the sixth game. But that would have been just a footnote to history if the Heat didn’t close the deal. Remember, this was Game 7 of The Finals, and James made sure it happened.
March 3, 2014 — Heat 124, Bobcats 107
61 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists
It won’t go down with historic import of his top performances in the playoffs, but it was a magical night when James came down like a blizzard on the heads of the helpless Bobcats.
We’ll remember it as the night when LeBron finally joined the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony in the “60 club” and probably just as much for his blitz of 8-for-10 shooting from behind the 3-point line.
As was pointed out by Hang Time colleague Sekou Smith, what sets LeBron’s 60 apart from Kobe and Carmelo is that he was doing a helluva lot more than just shooting the ball. Just another “typical” all-around game with seven rebounds and five assists.
May 20, 2012 — Heat 101, Pacers 93 (Game 4 Eastern Conference semifinals)
40 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots
How much of everyone’s perception of James and how much of the past two seasons of NBA history would have been changed if James didn’t step up big and save the Heat from going over the edge?
The Pacers had already taken home court advantage away from Miami and with a 2-1 lead in the series were on their home turf trying to built an insurmountable advantage. The Heat were missing center Chris Bosh, who was suffering from an abdominal injury and had Wade trying to recover from one of the worst playoff games of his career.
Indiana built a 10-point lead early in the third quarter and then LeBron teamed with Wade and simply took over.
James made 14 of 27 shots, got to the foul line 16 times, owned the backboards with a career playoff-high 18 boards and swatted back a pair of Pacers shots for good measure.
“I felt like I had to do whatever it took to win,” James said.
“LeBron had that look,” said teammate Shane Battier. “And when he has that look…you want to run through a wall.”
Before they put down the rival Celtics and before they beat OKC to win their first title, the Heat had to survive their first real test in Game 4 at Indiana. This underrated and under appreciated classic from James made sure they did.