NBA’s Best: LeBron James’s 6 Greatest Games So Far
LeBron James just submitted his latest application for greatest games of all time. Finishing a surprisingly competitive early March game against the Charlotte Bobcats, James had a final box score worthy of envy; 61 points on 33 shots, 80 percent shooting from deep, 9-12 from the free throw line, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and just two turnovers in 41 minutes of action. James joins Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks as the only player to break 60 points this season, and they are the only two players to do it since Kobe Bryant back in 2009.
It was the latest great game in a long line of great games for the greatest player in the NBA right now. James has been marked for greatness, rightly or wrongly, since he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “The Chosen One” back in 2002 as a high school junior. That was the first of 20 SI covers for James, who has averaged two covers a year for his entire NBA tenure. Luckily, for fans of high-level hoops, LeBron has proved to be anything but a style-over-substance superstar. Here are LeBron’s 6 greatest NBA games (so far.)
6. Cleveland v. Memphis, 11-29-2003
The 55 minute Game
LeBron’s Final Box Score: 33 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists
Final Score: Memphis 122 – Cleveland 115
One of LeBron’s most memorable games came early in his career, 17 games in, to be precise, when he played for almost an hour — 55 of the 58 possible minutes — in a double-overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. James, who’s best teammates were the immortal Ricky Davis (who played 51 minutes of his own) and a sophomore Carlos Boozer (who was out with a sprained ankle), was no match for Pau Gasol, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller. The Grizzlies’ coach? None other than Hubie Brown, because 2003 was a really long time ago.
This loss, the Cavs’ sixth in a row, would push the team down to a 4-13 record. The game also marked the first 30+ point game from Lebron James, who, at age 18 and 334 days, became the youngest player to ever score 30 points, breaking Kobe Bryant’s record of 19 years and 113 days.
5. Cleveland v. Portland, 1-19-2005
The First Triple-Double
LeBron’s Final Boxscore: 27 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists
Final Score: Portland 101 – Ceveland 107
A year and a half after LeBron broke Kobe’s record, he broke Lamar Odom’s. In a road game against the Portland Trail Blazers, who were in the last year of the so-called Jail Blazer Era, James — who had turned 20 less than a month before the game — would come in 34 days ahead of Odom (who was then 20 years, 56 days old) along the way to a six point victory. This would be the first of 36 career triple doubles for James, and his teams are 27-9 when he hits that plateau.
As for the Jail Blazers, they saw Nick Van Excel and Damon Stoudemire put in 28 and 27 points, respectively. The rest of Portland’s starting lineup was filled out by Theo Ratliff, Ruben Patterson, and Joel Pryzbila. After the game, James told ESPN, ”I just want to see our team winning games. I don’t care about stats.”
4. Cleveland v. Toronto 3/20/2005
LeBron Goes for 50+
Lebon’s Final Boxscore: 56 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists
Final Score: Cleveland 98 – Toronto 105
Almost two months to the day after James became the youngest player to ever have a triple-double, he became the youngest player ever to score 50 points in a game. Just 20 and 80 days old, LeBron broke NBA legend Rick Barry’s record by a year and a half. LeBron’s 56 points, made on 18-36 shooting, including 6-12 from deep, were hyper efficient despite the fact that James played every single one of the game’s 48 minutes. He was also nearly perfect from the foul line, going 14-15.
The point total, which still stands as Cleveland’s franchise record, would be the highest LeBron would hit until the 61 pointer against the Bobcats. On the other side of the floor, Jalen Rose would lead the Raptors in scoring with 30 points and 7 rebounds. Then-franchise centerpiece (and future LeBron teammate) Chris Bosh would have an unexciting evening, going 1-7 from the floor, but saving himself at the foul line for an 11 point, 7 rebound game.
3. Miami v. Charlotte 3-3-2014
LeBron Breaks 60
LeBron’s Final Boxscore: 61 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists
Here it is, the 61 point game. A Miami Heat franchise record, and a LeBron personal best. Shooting an unreasonable 66 percent from the floor, James went 22-33 in the Monday night game, which was only broadcast in the local Miami and Carolina markets. LeBron, who took more shots than the rest of the starting lineup combined, started off slowly, only taking 7 shots in the first-quarter (he made 4.)
At the half, ‘Bron had gone 10-11 with a pair of three pointers, then continued to pile it on during the second half. His shot chart, available courtesy of basketball-reference, is heavily clumped to the left side of the half-court — James usually pulls up for shots when he goes to his left, a scouting report made famous by Michael Jordan in February of last year. Of course, that doesn’t help anyone if he’s as locked in as he was against the Bobcats.
2. Cleveland v. Detroit, ECF Game 5, 2007
LeBron Takes Over
Final LeBron Boxscore: 48 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists
Final Score: Cleveland 109 – Detroit 107
On the way to his first appearance in the NBA Finals, LeBron single-handedly carried his Cavaliers team past the Detroit Pistons. At the outside of the game, with the series tied 2-2 and no teammates to speak of (look at this roster and wonder why why anyone was ever shocked ‘Bron bailed for Miami), James was going to have to step up to the plate if his squad had any chance of getting past the Detroit core, who had won a ring just a few seasons back in 2004. It took two overtime periods and 50 minutes of play from LeBron, but Cleveland got the victory.
James, who finished with 48 points, famously scored the final 25 points for the Cavaliers — including all of their overtime points — and 29 of their last 30, single-handedly bested a Piston’s squad that included Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, and Chris Webber. The Cavaliers would go on to win the series 4-2 before being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals.
1. Game 6, 2012 Eastern Conference Finals
James becomes the undisputed best player in the NBA
LeBron’s Final Box Score: 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists
Final Score: Boston 79 – Miami 91
A typical joke about LeBron James during the 2011-2012 regular season:
- Did you hear what happened when I gave LeBron a dollar?
- No, what happened?
- He only gave me back 75 cents. He was missing the fourth quarter!
Before this game, the narrative around LeBron was that he was an undisputed, no-questions asked choker. He couldn’t close out games. He was the best player in the game for the first 36 minutes, but he needed someone like a Dwyane Wade to seal the deal. That was never really true, of course (trueism’s often aren’t), but after a disastrous implosion in the 2011 Finals and trailing the Boston Celtics, who had stymied his championship aspirations for almost his entire career, 3-2 in the 2012 ECF, James turned into Arnold Schwarzenegger circa Terminator 2 and promptly brought about Judgement Day in front of a stunned TD Garden crowd.
It wasn’t his best game from a statistical perspective. There weren’t any career highs. It wasn’t even a series winner. But LeBron’s Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals was the game that put the rest of the league on notice. The King had officially arrived.