Ranking LeBron James' Most Unforgettable NBA Finals Performances

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2013

Ranking LeBron James' Most Unforgettable NBA Finals Performances

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    LeBron James is making his fourth trip to the NBA Finals and is no longer the player we knew back in 2007, when he made his first appearance. He's better. 

    Which is scary.

    Thus far, James has played in 15 finals contests, more than a few of which he'd like to forget. All four of the championship bouts he played while with the Cleveland Cavaliers come to mind there.

    A few of them, though, weren't so bad. They weren't even good—they were great. True story.

    Which ones were those?

    James has just one ring, but he has a handful of finals memories to look back upon fondly—memories that he hopes to build on against the San Antonio Spurs.

     

    *All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise attributed.

5. Game 5 vs. Dallas Mavericks (2011)

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    The 2011 NBA Finals was hardly LeBron James' best series of basketball. Even so, his greatness was not to be marginalized every night.

    In Miami's Game 5 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, James recorded his first career finals triple-double, going for 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He became just the ninth player since 1986 to post a triple-double in the finals, joining legends such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, James Worthy and Scottie Pippen.

    Some will remember that game for James' four turnovers. Or for his 8-of-19 showing from the floor. I personally still recall shaking my head knowing that the Heat were done. They weren't coming back down 3-2, not after dropping two straight.

    I also remember James' triple-double and what it meant to know that he could post such a touted stat line and still be expected to do more. In a way, he was both brilliant and disappointing.

    Becoming the second-youngest player since 1986 (Rajon Rondo) to post a triple-double in the finals didn't make his performance perfect. It was far from it. 

    But it did make it memorable.

4. Game 1 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (2012)

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    LeBron James' Game 1 efforts against the Oklahoma City in 2012 were admirable. They were also supposed to doom the Heat.

    Miami fell to Oklahoma City 105-94, the world was ending and it was James' fault (even though it wasn't). The Heat weren't going to win a title. They were fated to fall to the Thunder the way they did to the Mavericks.

    Lost in the overplayed pessimism was the career milestone James had eclipsed. This was his 11th career NBA Finals contest, but it was the first time he totaled at least 30 points. He also pitched in nine rebounds, four assists and tied a career-finals high with four steals.

    Since 1986, only three players in NBA history have posted at least 30 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals in the same finals game. The other two were Dwyane Wade and Scottie Pippen.

    Could James have been better? Of course. Those four turnovers continue to stick out to this day.

    Win or lose, however, that stat line is still impressive.

3. Game 1 vs. Dallas Mavericks (2011)

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    Finally.

    Until this point, James had yet to win a game in NBA Finals. He was 0-4 in his only trip to the big dance with Cleveland. This victory got the monkey off his back.

    It was also used as evidence to support the notion that these Heat could not be beat. They took down the Mavericks 92-84, jumping out to an early series lead.

    As we know, that initial victory proved to mean nothing in the scheme of James procuring his first championship ring. Miami fell to Dallas in six games. 

    At the time, however, all that mattered was Game 1. And what James did in Game 1 was enough to make people believe in him and the Heat. 

    The Chosen One closed out a series-opening victory with 24 points, 9 rebounds and five assists on 56.3 percent shooting. Only nine players before him (since 1986) had managed to tally at least 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists on 55 percent or better shooting from the floor in the finals.

    Whenever you're able to put yourself in the company of legends like Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan and James Worthy, you've done something right.

    In Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Finals, James did something right.

2. Game 2 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (2012)

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    This was the game that shifted the perception of LeBron James' performance in "the moment."

    Having dropped Game 1, the Heat needed to avoid a similar fate in Game 2. Trailing 2-0 against the Thunder was not where they wanted to be. James helped ensure they didn't fall that far.

    He set a still-to-this-day career-finals high with 32 points on 10-of-22 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and five assists. His showing from the field wasn't incredibly efficient, but he connected on all 12 of his free throws.

    James joined Clyde Drexler as the only two NBA players since 1986 to score at least 32 points, grab eight rebounds and drain 12 free throws without missing a single one in the same finals game..

    More importantly, James began to distance himself from the stigma that followed him from Cleveland to the 2011 NBA Finals.

    This 2012 version of LeBron couldn't be depicted as a choke artist. This LeBron wouldn't submit to criticism or the other team's will. This LeBron was here to win.

    And win he eventually did.

1. Game 5 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (2012)

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    Fittingly enough, LeBron James' most memorable NBA Finals performance came during the game that earned him his first career title.

    Up 3-1 on the Thunder, the Heat were just one victory away from their first championship of the Big Three era. History was on their side. Only eight teams have ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win a best-of-seven series. All that was needed was a finishing touch.

    James provided it, finishing with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his second career finals triple-double. He joined Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as the only three players since 1986 to register two or more triple-doubles in the finals.

    Not that we should be surprised. After falling short in 2011, James wanted his first ring. He needed his first ring.

    Behind an awe-inspiring performance that enabled the Heat to trounce Oklahoma City 121-106, he got it.