Even before Cleveland inbounded the ball with the scores tied and just over eight seconds remaining in Game 3 against the Raptors, there was an air of inevitability about the outcome. LeBron has made a habit of destroying Toronto in recent years, though the Raps are not alone in having their hearts broken by the King. In the wake of yet another playoff series in which he has placed his Cavs teammates squarely on his back, it seems like an apt time to take a look back at some the greatest moments of his career.
Game 5 – 2007 Conference Finals v Detroit
It’s difficult to go past this 13 minute stretch of game time as the best of LeBron’s career. As a 22-year-old, he was yet to lead his Cavs to the NBA Finals, but locked at 2-2 in the Conference Finals against the Pistons he had perhaps his best chance yet .
Detroit seemed destined to take the series lead in front of a rambunctious home town crowd when they led 88-81 with 3:01 seconds left. Destiny, however, clearly meant nothing to the young LeBron James, who scored 9 of Cleveland’s 10 points in these last three minutes, including a game-tying dunk with less than 10 seconds to go to send the game to overtime.
The first overtime period saw both teams score 9 points, or, more accurately, Detroit score 9 points and LeBron score 9 points. The first 4 minutes and 58 seconds of the second overtime saw a similar story unfold; Detroit scored 7 points, and so did LeBron. With 2.2 seconds left though, James charged into the lane, made a game-winning layup, and gave his Cavs a 3-2 lead which they would never relinquish.
To summarize: in what was an extremely important, conference-deciding matchup, James scored 29 of the Cavs’ last 30 points to drag them back from a seven point deficit, and also hit the game winner with just two seconds left. Not bad.
Game 2 – 2009 Conference Finals v Orlando
This was probably the single greatest shot of LeBron’s career to date. After losing Game 1 of the Conference Finals despite 49 points from the King, a loss here would have made it difficult for the Cavs to advance out of the east. With exactly one second remaining in the game, it seemed that was the way things were headed.
Hedo Turkoglu dropped in a jumper with just a second to go to give his Magic a 95-93 lead. The Cavs promptly called a timeout, during which one can only assume LeBron told inbounder Mo Williams to pass him the ball and everyone else to get out of the way. As Williams stood with the ball waiting to inbound, a few half-arsed screens and irrelevant motions were run by his teammates, while LeBron hopped back and forth around the foul line.
He then took three quick steps to his left, caught Williams’ pass, and with a sizeable hop back, put up a shot that would send the roof off of the Quicken Loans Arena and nearly break the vocal chords of Marv Albert. It dropped, the Cavs won, and the series was tied at 1-1. Unfortunately they then went on to lose the series, effectively rendering the shot irrelevant, but it makes for a better story if we all ignore that.
Games 5, 6 and 7 – 2016 NBA Finals v Golden State
Whether or not it’s reasonable to include three whole games as a ‘moment’ is debatable, but they were all so impressive that I’m going to do it anyway. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the background – a small-town boy from Akron making it big in the success-starved city of Cleveland, only to leave them for the glitz and glamor of Miami, only to return. Could he finally bring them that elusive Championship for which they so yearned?
Down 3-1 against a team boasting the likes of Curry, Thompson and Green, it seemed like the answer was no. Enter LeBron. Game 5, in front of a rabid Oakland crowd, staring down the barrel of a 4-1 Finals loss, James went 16-for-30 from the field, 4-for-8 from downtown, and accumulated 41 points, 16 boards, 7 dimes, 3 steals and 3 blocks. It’s worth noting that he received a little help from Kyrie, who also managed 41 points (on 17-for-24 no less). Series still on.
LeBron obviously took a liking to the number 41, because in Game 6 he once again scored that many points. This time it was on 16-for-27 shooting, to go with 8 boards, 11 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. He had forced a Game 7 out of pure will and dominance, but still the Cavs had to manage another win in Oakland for the fairytale to be complete.
LeBron’s stats in Game 7 were comparatively poor, which is funny considering he had 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks. The most important of all these stats, of course, was ‘the block’ which he executed with 1:50 left in the season. Tied at 89, Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala were steaming up the court. Steph led Andre into a relatively open basket, but LeBron promptly came out of nowhere and slammed the ball into the backboard. Irving then nailed a dagger up the other end, and Cleveland’s long drought was over.
Considering the context of this scenario, namely the historical ineptitude of Cleveland-based sporting teams, this might be the most memorable stretch of his career.
Game 2 – 2018 Conference Semis v Toronto
Maybe (definitely) there’s a little bit of recency bias here, but that performance last week was so ridiculous that I want to write about it. LeBron went 19-for-28 from the field on the way to 43 points, dished out 14 assists along with just a solitary turnover, and grabbed 8 boards in a complete decimation of the poor Raptors.
LBJ’s shots were a joke. I don’t know if he’s ever shot as well in his life as he did this game. He went 6-for-9 in the third quarter, hitting a couple of 3’s and a tough turnaround jumper, which was nice. In the fourth, he went bananas. He connected on 6 more mid-rangers, and virtually all of them seemed like extremely low percentage shots. Low as in you might make them one out of ten times, but he made them almost every time. Toronto actually played reasonably well, but got belted by 18 points. This was a one-man show if ever there was one.
LeBron is pretty good. Everyone knows that, and his past couple of weeks of dominance aren’t particularly unexpected. With two game-winners and another extraordinary statline or two in the first two rounds of the 2018 playoffs though, he’s poised to grow his reputation even further. Most likely, the Cavs will make it out of the east and run into a Warriors machine which will slice them into pieces, but if James can somehow, miraculously lead his side to victory, MJ will be getting sweaty.