LeBron James has been the NBA’s best player for nearly a decade. He’s undoubtedly the greatest NBA player of his generation. From his very first playoff series back in 2006, when he averaged nearly 31 points per game and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first series victory in 13 years, James has excelled when the lights shine brightest. Here are James’ top five playoff runs.
LeBron James Top 5 Playoff Runs
In the 2009 playoffs, James was simply spectacular. His Cavs lost to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it was hardly James’ fault. James’ astonishing 35.3 points per game average were the most he’s had in any of his playoff runs. James added 9.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists per night, for good measure. He led Cleveland to dominant first- and second-round wins, sweeping their first eight playoff games. James’ brilliance culminated in some late-game heroics against the Magic, as well as a 38-8-8 stat-line in the series. 2009 was James’ best statistical playoff performance, and he carried a team of mediocre players about as far as it could go. Had the Cavs advanced to the NBA Finals, this run would surely be higher on the list.
The 2007 playoffs were when James, at just 23 years old, truly started to live up to his ‘Chosen One’ moniker. Sure, he put up his usual gaudy statistics. But beyond the numbers, James pulled off a seemingly impossible task, something that would become a trend in his career. Despite a subpar supporting cast, James took the Cavaliers beyond the second round for the first time. In the Conference Finals, they faced the perennial juggernaut Detroit Pistons, who were making their fifth straight appearance. The top-seeded Pistons were heavily favored coming in, and with the series tied 2-2, a pivotal Game 5 approached. James, sensing the importance of the moment, put the Cavs on his back. He scored Cleveland’s last 25 points to end the game, and 29 of the team’s final 30. The Cavaliers won by two points in overtime, with James scoring the go-ahead layup to give him 48 points on the night. Though the Cavs got swept in the NBA Finals by the far superior San Antonio Spurs, one thing was clear: a superstar had arrived, and his name was LeBron James.
By 2013, James had already won his first championship with the Miami Heat, and he was looking for a repeat. After dismantling their first two series’ opponents, James led the Heat to two grueling seven-game series victories over the Indiana Pacers and the Spurs in the final rounds. While critics may claim that Ray Allen saved James with his game-tying shot in Game 6 of the Finals, that doesn’t tell the whole story. James dominated the Finals, leading the series in minutes, points, assists, and steals per game on route to his second consecutive Finals MVP. He notched a triple-double with the Heat’s season on the line in Game 6, racking up 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists. In the deciding Game 7, sports betting experts made Miami ever-so-slight favorites. James finally found his shooting stroke, making 12 of 23 field goals and five of 10 three-pointers in a 37-point effort. 2013 wasn’t James’ best playoff run, but it was certainly remarkable in its own right.
James’ 2012 playoff run surely holds a special place in his heart, as it included his first title and Finals MVP with the Heat. He led all scorers with 30.3 PPG in the playoffs, also chipping in 9.7 boards, 5.6 assists, and 1.9 steals. Most importantly, though, James overcame the demons that troubled him earlier in his career. The Heat found themselves in a tough spot going into Game 6 of the Conference Finals. They were down 3-2 to Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics, who had defeated James in a playoff series twice before. Game 6 was in Boston, with a raucous crowd that was anxious for another Finals appearance. With all the pressure in the world, James pulled through for Miami. In arguably the greatest performance of his career, he dropped a stunning 45 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists in a dominant Heat victory. James connected on 19 of 26 shots, scoring over Celtic defenders as if they weren’t even there. His extraordinary play carried over to the next game, which the Heat won, advancing them to the Finals. Once there, Miami demolished the inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder, with James racking up a triple-double in the clinching game. The Heat’s convincing victory was in large part due to James’ excellence; only one of his playoff runs could top 2012.
Finally, 2016 was James’ greatest playoff run. James’ Cavs breezed through the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, losing just two games total in their first three playoff series. The “real” playoffs began in the NBA Finals, where Cleveland met the Golden State Warriors for the second consecutive year. Golden State clearly appeared to be better – the Warriors had broken the regular season record for wins, finishing with a 73-9 record. They were heavily favored coming into the series, by Vegas odds, NBA experts, and fans alike. The series didn’t start well for the Cavs. They lost three of the first four games, validating most predictions and putting James in an extremely difficult position. But for Cleveland’s sake, James didn’t give up hope. He scored 41 points in each of the next two games, playing all but five minutes of each contest. The Cavs won both games, riding on James’ shoulders. In Game 7, James cooled down as the pace slowed. Even so, he managed to tally another triple-double, with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. Furthermore, he played 47 minutes, exerting every ounce of energy that he had left. Despite the heavy workload, James still made one of the greatest defensive plays in NBA history in the game’s final minutes – now known as “The Block” – possibly saving Cleveland’s championship hopes. James led the Finals in all five major statistical categories. He brought the Cavs back from the dead, pulling off an unthinkable upset and managing one of the most impressive feats the NBA has ever seen. Due to his conquering of the mighty Warriors, James’ 2016 playoff run must be considered his best.