Today we’re going to have a little talk about LeBron James playoff performances. Or, to be more specific, the idea that there aren’t as many legendary LeBron James playoff performances as there are legendary Michael Jordan playoff performances. Because that idea is nonsense.
Yes, MJ was sublime. Yes, he won six rings. But LeBron is now the all-time leader in playoff triple-doubles with 12. Do you know how many playoff triple-doubles Michael Jordan has?
Nope, not 10, or even five. Try two.
Now, a triple-double isn’t everything. It’s not like a guy who scored 50 points but records only 5 rebounds and five assists had a bad game. But a triple-double isn’t nothing, either. It’s a pretty good measure of well-roundedness and the overall impact a player has on the game.
So what am I saying? Well, I’m not saying LeBron is better than Jordan, so just relax. As of right now he’s not better than Jordan. But de does have time. Jordan didn’t win his fourth ring until the age of 32. Right now LeBron is 30. Theoretically, if LeBron doesn’t take a year off to play baseball for the Columbus Clippers, he could leapfrog Jordan and win four rings by the age of 31.
What I am saying is that LeBron is a clutch performer with a ton of iconic playoff performances. And today I’m gonna prove it.
A Note About Stats: the slash stats that appear in each slide refer to points-rebounds-assists/field goal percentage/Game Score, which is a metric created by ESPN analyst John Hollinger that tries to combine all stats from a given game into a single number. A Game Score of 10 is average; a Game Score of 40 is outstanding. All numbers taken from Basketball-Reference.com.
NBA Finals, Game 426-9-12 / .500 FG% / 25.3 Game Score
I couldn't justify including this performance on the list at the expense of one of LeBron's 30-point triple doubles. However, it definitely deserves an honorable mention.
You see, LeBron took a lot of heat for his poor performance against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, with some even suggesting that he wilts under pressure. However, he proved his critics wrong the following year against the Thunder, and his performance in Game 4 of the 2012 Finals (on the road) was particularly notable. Just minutes after being carried off the court with to debilitating leg cramps, LeBron returned to the game and hit a go-ahead three-pointer with 2:50 left on the clock.
He finished the game with 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 12 assists, putting the Thunder in a 3-1 series chokehold. Then he won his first ring two nights later in Miami.
It wasn't gorgeous, but it was gritty.
Honorable Mention: June 19, 2012 at OKC
2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 5
37-14-12 / .458 FG% / 33.3 Game Score
The Cavaliers lost the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic. Nevertheless, the series still jumps out asone of LeBron's best, and two of his performances from that series made the cut for this list.
The first? Well, it isn't one of his three 40-point games against Orlando that year. Instead, it's his triple-double performance in Game 5—the one in which LeBron scored 17 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter to help the Cavs stave off elimination.
Pretty clutch, no?
9. May 28, 2009 vs. Orlando
2014 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 4
49-6-2 / .667 FG% / 39.8 Game Score
During Miami's title runs in 2012 and 2013, LeBron had a lot of assistance from D-Wade and Bosh. Thus, he never really had to turn on pure-scorer mode.
In 2014, that was not the case. D-Wade and Bosh were banged up, so in Game 4 against the Nets LeBron put the Heat on his back and did it all himself. His 49 points tied a career playoff high, and the Heat went on to close out the series in five games.
8. May 12, 2014 at Brooklyn
2015 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 3
37-18-13 / .378 / 29.0 Game Score
What makes LeBron's performance against the Hawks in Game 3 of the 2015 East Finals so remarkable is the turnaround. The guy started the game ice-cold, missing his first then shots. And considering the Cavs were without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, this didn't bode well.
However, after those first ten shots, LeBron turned it around. He went 14/27 from the floor (.518) the rest of the way while recording an insane 18 rebounds and 13 assists, leading the Cavs to a 114-110 OT win...after which LeBron collapsed from exhaustion.
Epic. Truly epic.
7. May 24, 2015 at Atlanta
2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 3 47-12-8 / .600 FG% / 43.8 Game Score
Apparently Lebron James likes playing playoff games in Atlanta. Six years before recording his 12th career triple double there in 2015, LeBron dropped a whopping 47 points on them (and grabbed 10 defensive rebounds for good measure) in a 97-82 win.
The Cavs would go on to sweep the Hawks two days later and advance to the Conference Finals.
6. May 9, 2009 at Atlanta
2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1
49-6-8 / .667 FG % / 44.7 Game Score
I've already said that the 2009 Eastern Conference Final against the Magic might have been LeBron's best all-around series. Now I'll say his best game from his best series was Game 1.
It's not hard to understand why. Even though the Cavs suffered a heartbreaking 107-106 loss, the guy scored 49 points and hit 66% of his shots. If the Cavs could have gotten LeBron the ball for the last shot (like they did the very next night) instead of Delonte West and Mo Williams, things might have ended differently.
5. May 20, 2009 at Orlando
2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 4 40-18-9, / .519 FG% / 37.2 Game Score
After taking Game 1 of the 2012 East Semifinals against the Pacers, the Heat dropped Game 2 by 3 points and Game 3 by 19 points. What they needed for Game 4 was for somebody to put the fire out. and that somebody was LeBron James, who erupted for 40 points and a whopping 18 rebounds, falling just one assist shy of a triple-double.
LeBron's monster performance completely changed the tone of the series. The Heat went on to win Game 4 by 32 points before closing the Pacers out with a 12-point win in Game 6.
4. May 20, 2012 at Indiana
2007 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 5
48-9-7 / .545 FG% / 38.1 gamescore
LeBron was pretty good in his first trip to the postseason in 2006. However, it was his second trip to the postseason in 2007 that established him as a transcendent superstar who would soon devour the league.
Case in point? Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pistons. LeBron didn't just score 48 points shooting 55% from the field. He also score Cleveland's last 25 points and 29 of their last 30, helping them prevail in double OT and take a 3-2 series lead.
Cleveland would go on to beat Detroit in Game 6, advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, while becoming just the third team to overcome a 2-0 series deficit in the conference finals.
3. May 31, 2007 at Detroit
2013 NBA Finals, Game 6
32-10-11 /.423 FG% /25.8 Game Score
For the most part, I favor statistics over "storylines" and "intangibles" when it comes to evaluating playoff performances. However, when it comes to Game 6 against the Spurs in 2013—one of the greatest games in the history of the NBA Finals—I'm making an exception. In this case, you simply cannot ignore what LeBron and the Heat were up against.
Sure, Ray Allen will probably go down as the hero in this one. He hit the game-tying three-pointer that sent the game to overtime after the Spurs had led by five points with only 28.2 seconds left on the clock. Allen wouldn't have gotten the chance to hit that game-tying three if not for LeBron.
You see, LeBron had gotten off to a slow start in the first half, much like the 2015 game against the Hawks. However, he scored 16 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, including a clutch three-pointer with 20 seconds remaining that cut the Spurs' five-point lead down to two.
The Heat would go on to beat the Spurs in overtime, sending the series to Game 7...in which LeBron earned his second straight Bill Russell MVP Award with a 37-point, 12-rebound performance.
2. June 18, 2013 vs. San Antonio
2012 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 6
45-15-5 / .731 FG% / 36.4 gamescore
The only LeBron James playoff performance greater than Game 6 of the 2013 Finals? That would be Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.
The Heat trailed the Celtics 3-2 heading into Game 6 in Boston. But losing meant more than elimination. It meant being branded choke artists.
Just two summers earlier, LeBron, Wade, and Bosh proclaimed themselves a dynasty. Then they followed that up with an epic flop against the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals. If they failed to win a championship again in 2012, it would have been a disaster for the Heat.
LeBron didn't let that happen, though. Facing elimination, he dropped 45 points on the Celtics on the road by shooting a mind-boggling 73% from the field. Then he grabbed 15 rebounds, too, just for fun, and Miami won by 19.
The rest, of course, is history. Miami won Game 7 back in Miami by 13. Then they defeated the Thunder in five and LeBron got his first ring.
1. June 7, 2012 at Boston
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