James came up short time and time again in the postseason, culminating in a shocking failure in the 2011 NBA Finals, where his Miami Heat fell to the Dallas Mavericks in six games and James noticeably shrunk on his sport's biggest stage.
Other than LeBron's miracle game-winning shot in Game 2 of the 2009 East Finals against the Orlando Magic, James has been devoid of any signature game-winners.
But, being "clutch" isn't purely defined by game-winners or being Robert Horry-ish; it's about making the right basketball plays when it matters most, such as creating for your teammates, making shots, grabbing important rebounds and making key stops on defense.
And possibly the most important factor, something that seems to get overlooked, is making the aforementioned plays in the final minutes to ensure the game doesn't have to get to the point where a last-second shot is necessary.
LeBron may not be known for his buzzer-beaters, but there is no denying that the King is one of the most clutch players in the game.
LeBron Does It All in Crunch Time
So many people associate the big shot as the mark of clutchness.
While that may be the most memorable aspect of a nail-biter situation, it's hardly the only ingredient that defines clutch.
James is constantly praised for his versatility and well-rounded game. Well, that versatility and well-roundedness shine even brighter in clutch time.
The Miami Heat are 6-4 this season in games that have been decided by five points or fewer, but they have been victorious in countless of other games where they turned a five-point (or less) contest into a larger win margin.
The biggest reason for Miami's success in those situations? LeBron James.
LeBron hasn't just been solid in the clutch; he's absolutely thrived on both ends of the floor in all aspects of the game in crunch time.
Consider this, according to NBA.com's Advanced Stat tool, LeBron is averaging an absurd 25.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10.5 assists on a per-36 minute level in clutch time (defined as when the game is within five points in the final five minutes).
Folks, you read that right—James is averaging a triple-double in the clutch on a per-36 level. That's absolutely insane.
Now, let's compare that to James peers.
Kevin Durant averages 39.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 4.3 turnovers in clutch situations.
Kobe Bryant is posting 29.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists in the clutch.
Chris Paul? 36 points, 6.0 assists and 2.7 boards.
What do we learn from these findings? No one comes close to James in the clutch. Sure, James isn't the aggressive scorer that Durant or Kobe is, but in terms of an all-around game, James reigns supreme in pressure situations.
James is the Heat's leading scorer, rebounder and facilitator, and his impact in those areas doesn't diminish when it matters most; it actually becomes greater.
If you're not a numbers person and need specific examples of when James has came through in the clutch, here are some scenarios from earlier this season.
In their third game of the season, the Heat found themselves down a point to the Denver Nuggets with 6.7 seconds left in the game. James had the ball on the perimeter and began driving to the lane where the defense collapsed on him.
James made the smart pass to an open Ray Allen, who converted a go-ahead four-point play, and the Heat won 119-116.
Other examples of James coming through in crunch time include his driving layup with 19 seconds left to put the Heat ahead for good against the Houston Rockets, and his eight overtime points to down the Orlando Magic.
What about defensively?
Remember, the Heat's 99-90 victory over the L.A. Lakers at the Staples Center just a couple of weeks back? What's memorable about the game is that it was tied at 83 with 5:27 remaining in the contest. From that point on, the Heat finished the game on a 16-7 run.
Care to guess the catalyst in that run?
James started guarding Kobe Bryant at the 5:27 mark, and the Lakers offense went cold. James posted seven points in the final five minutes of the game, matching the entire Lakers offensive output, while also notching three assists. LeBron accounted for 14 of the Heat's 16 points in the game's decisive run.
James clearly gets the job done when the game is hanging in the balance.
Putting It into Perspective
For people who will still be quick to point out LeBron's past failures, let's further put into perspective just how special this guy is.
In 110 minutes of clutch time this season, James has posted 32 assists, which is more than Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams combined. And it's those passing numbers that are the most telling stat. That means in addition to the points James has scored in crunch time, he's accounting for at least another 64 points with his timely dimes.
As of stats compiled two weeks ago, when James was on the floor in clutch time, he accounted for an astonishing 62 percent of the Heat's scoring, when you factor in his baskets and assists, according to ESPN.com.
Where does LeBron James rank among clutchest players?
James might have shrunk in the 2011 Finals and may lack a resume of clock-beating, game-winning shots, but James is all over the place when it matters most—scoring points, grabbing rebounds, playing smothering defense and dishing out dimes to open teammates because the opposing defense is focused on him.
LeBron is the ultimate player in crunch time because he doesn't have to rely on shooting heroics to be clutch.