There are as many ways to contextualize LeBron James’ career as creative enough to be creative. With James approaching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career scoring record, I’m going to rank the 10 best on-court moments of James’ career – not necessarily his best game or highest scoring.
As always, this is a subjective list, so we can agree to disagree as long as you can point me in the direction of which performance you’d trade in for one of mine.
Without further ado, let’s get into it:
10. Father time? LeBron has never heard of him
March 5, 2022 – Lakers 124, Warriors 116
Final stats: 56 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one block, 19/31 FG, 6/11 from 3, 12/13 feet.
Although James and the Los Angeles Lakers missed the playoffs last season, the four-time MVP still had Historic night Against the 2022 NBA Champions. His 16-point fourth quarter capped the night that eclipsed Stephen Curry’s 30 points. James’ last-frame breakout tied for the most points during a single quarter in 37 regular season games against the Warriors.
“It’s funny,” James said, “our guys were following me off the floor tonight to the locker room and asking, ‘How do you feel when you score 56?'” “I said, ‘Right now, I don’t give a damn about 56. I’m just glad we got the win.’ That’s literally the first thing that came to my mind.”
Monster LeBron James game halted Lakers slide: “I don’t care about the 56. I’m glad we got the win.”
At the time of this game, James is 37 years old. Since turning 38 on December 30, James has played four games averaging 40 or more points.
Dec. 2, 2010 – Heat 118, Cavaliers 90
Final stats: 38 points, eight assists, five rebounds, 15/25 FG, 2/7 from 3, 6/9 shot (only played three quarters)
I remember clearly poison In what was known as the Quicken Loans Arena, it was so clear I could feel it from both sides of the TV. And while 38 points may seem underwhelming to this list, James gave his team a comfortable lead through the first three quarters and was even kept on the bench during the final frame.
Whatever James does in the first half, it works. You’ll notice a common theme here with James and his beloved third quarter. In this, he dropped 24 in the third quarter alone, silencing even his biggest haters in Cleveland at the time.
Of the seven career high-scoring quarters of James, two of them are wild hits against his hometown Cavaliers.
8. From Downtown Road
February 20, 2009 – Cavaliers 111, Bucks 103
Final stats: 55 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 16/29 FG, 8/11 from 3rd, 15/22 feet.
Every now and then, the Highlights of this game They seem to be making their rounds on social media. James found a groove early and hit a wave of 3s tonight.
Just so we’re clear, this was a 22-year-old putting up numbers like this.
By halftime, it was clear that James wasn’t giving up. Blazing third, he scored 24 points, four consecutive 3s and five straight 3s in that quarter alone. This game was a sight to behold, especially when James shot just 31.9 percent from 3-point range that season.
7. Friendly competition
February 4, 2009 – Cavaliers 107, Knicks 102
Final stats: 52 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 17/33 FG, 2/7 from 3, 16/19 FG.
Madison Square Garden seems to offer the best of the NBA toast. James has spoken candidly of his love for “Mecca,” as it is affectionately referred to.
A man who does not look like Madison Square Garden! 🏟
– LeBron James (@KingJames) May 11, 2020
Kobe Bryant had just set the record for most points in Madison Square Garden with 61 just four nights before the Cavaliers came to town. Although he didn’t top Bryant’s 61 points, James finished first with a career-high 52 three-pointers before the NBA grabbed a rebound. It was quite evident that James was enjoying the moment during this match.
Of the 10 visiting players in league history with a 50-point performance at Madison Square Garden, only James has done so while posting 10 assists – and he’s done it twice. Finally, an unparalleled achievement by Wilt Chamberlain.
6. Uncharted Territory
March 20, 2005 – Raptors 105, Cavaliers 98
Final stats: 56 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals, 18/36 FG, 6/12 from 3, 14/15 Ft.
What do you imagine most 20-year-olds do on a Sunday afternoon? You are likely to prepare for a week of college exams. Some may actually work.
This particular Sunday, the 20-year-old LeBron is down 56 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Despite the historic effort, the Cavaliers lost by seven points. As one might expect, James also played the full 48 minutes.
He had a very balanced game, with the fourth highest scoring quarter coming in with 19.
This was James’ first 50-point game and at the time, he was the youngest player in NBA history to score 55 or more points. His record stood for four years until Brandon Jennings, 28 days younger than James during that performance, scored 55 against the Warriors.
5. Career high points
March 3, 2014 – Heat 124, Bobcats 107
61 points, seven rebounds, four assists, 22/33 FG, 8/10 from 3, 9/12 feet
James seemed to be all about one thing and one thing only on this occasion: buckets. For reference, the only time he averaged fewer than six assists in his career was his rookie season, when he averaged 5.9. This game has only four.
James’ fun started in the second half. After a completely record first half by his standards, he walked out of the locker room and touched 25 in the third quarter alone. Want to follow up on this third quarter topic? As of January 24, 2023, this game had his career high of 3 seconds (eight).
Two of the four highest bids in Miami Heat history belong to James.
If you’re all about recording, this is the performance to rewatch.
4. A legacy is at stake
June 7, 2012 – Heat ’98, Celtics ’79 (Eastern Conference Finals, Game 6)
Final stats: 45 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, 19/26 FG, 2/4 from 3, 5/9 Ft.
Series stats: 33.6 points, 11 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.3 blocks
This was the culmination of three years in which James and the Boston Celtics met in the playoffs. The Celtics defeated James in his final game during his first stint with the Cavs. Then James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh & Co. defeated Boston in their first year together. But it was the postseason that James was finally able to put the weight of the Celtics’ challenges behind him.
Best of all, the match was in Boston.
The star put his team on his back in this game, which makes it feel a bit more personal than the regular playoff series. James was in an unwavering rhythm from tip-off to the final buzzer, connecting with a variety of wide jump shots, back dives and everything in between.
With this win, it became clear that the Eastern Conference would no longer go through Boston. James remains the only player in NBA postseason history to have recorded at least 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists on the road.
He won his first title two weeks later.
I struggled between this moment and the next, but I took into account the age and the strength of the team. The Heat arguably had James’ most talented team, while also being five years into his career from No. 3.
May 31, 2007 – Cavaliers 109, Pistons 107 (Eastern Conference Finals Game 5)
Final stats: 48 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals, 18/33 FG, 2/3 of 3, 10/14 feet.
Series stats: 25.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 2.7 steals
In just his fourth season in the NBA, the 22-year-old James led his team to and through the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. James was responsible for 48 of his team’s 109 points in their double-overtime victory over the Pistons.
This was one of the most incredible games based on the sheer amount of footage and releases, most of which were incredibly difficult.
It’s hard to fathom someone who could be a great in college against one of the most stifling defenses in the NBA at the time.
But every time it seemed impossible for him to outsmart the last basket, he did. And if there was ever any doubt as to how talented James was, he probably died that night.
2. What’s up with JR Smith?
May 31, 2018 – Warriors 124, Cavaliers 114 (NBA Finals Game 1)
Final stats: 51 points, eight assists, eight rebounds, 19/32 FG, 3/7 from 3, 10/11 Ft.
Series averages: 34 points, 10 assists, 8.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1 block
Of all of James’ performances, both during the regular season and the playoffs, this was the most impressive in terms of box scores and moment weight. The Cavaliers were on the road in Game 1 that could have changed the face of that series.
Although this performance came by way of a loss, it was clear that James was the best player on the floor. Golden State was at the height of its dynasty with Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant on the roster.
James was basically orchestrating this game on both sides of the floor almost from start to finish. Things fell apart when Cleveland had an opportunity to attempt a winning shot to avoid overtime.
JR Smith glanced at the basket to score or pass to James. But instead the Cavaliers squandered a game winning opportunity and lost in overtime. It is the only loss in seven instances in which a player has scored a 50-point match in the Finals.
Forgotten Fridays: JR Smith’s NBA Finals is still hard to explain
Nothing detracts from James’ performance in my eyes. By this point in his career, his basketball IQ had evolved to match his physical talents.
1. The block
June 19, 2016 – Cavaliers 93, Warriors 89 (NBA Finals Game 7)
Final stats: 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, 9/24 FG, 1/5 of 3, 8/10 putt
Series averages: 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, 2.3 blocks
While the 2016 Finals was far from James’ best streak statistically, this was the most impactful stretch up to this point in his career. Even putting his team in a position to play a Game 7 is a testament to the path James has been on.
The Warriors were leading 3-1 in the series before the Cavaliers won three straight games.
This Warriors team featured the core combination of Curry, Thompson, and Green, who finished with a 72-10 record – the best in NBA history. The highlight for James of this game, the series, and possibly his career came on the Warriors’ fast break with 1:50 left in the game.
Curry gave Andre Iguodala a rebound pass that Iguodala tried to put in to break the tie at the 89. James, looking as if he had been fired from a cannon, came up to pin Iguodala’s bunt attempt into the backboard. This block contributed to the Cavaliers holding the Warriors to a scoreless over Final 4:39 of the fourth.
By the end of the series, James became the first player in NBA history to lead both teams in a playoff series in points, rebounds, assists and blocks.
NBA 75: At number two, LeBron James has used his size, skill, and determination to overcome the burden of expectations
(Photo: Brad Mills/USA Today)