Ranking the Best Playoff Moments of LeBron James' NBA Career

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2020

Ranking the Best Playoff Moments of LeBron James' NBA Career

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    No matter if LeBron James wins an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers, the future Hall of Famer has a career loaded with accomplishments in the playoffs.

    From clutch shots and extraordinarily stat lines to winning championships with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron has enjoyed a variety of memorable moments.

    Granted, that should be expected from a three-time champion and the NBA's all-time leading postseason scorer.

    While the order is subjective, factors that shaped the order include the playoff round, impact of the play/moment, rarity of the play/moment and any other valuable context.

Honorable Mentions: The Other Buzzer-Beaters

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    Game 1, 2013 Eastern Conference Finals

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    Over a three-year period from 2012-14, the Heat and Indiana Pacers had a little rivalry in the postseason. Miami eliminated the Pacers each time, though the 2013 playoffs might've gone differently had LeBron's layup not beaten the buzzer in Game 1.


    Game 4, 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals

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    The Cavs trailed the Chicago Bulls 2-1 in this series before The King sparked a comeback. This buzzer-beater over Jimmy Butler gave Cleveland an 86-84 victory, and then the Cavaliers won Games 5 and 6 to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.


    Game 5, 2018 Eastern Conference First Round

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    Man, poor Pacers. As happened five years earlier, LeBron hit a buzzer-beater in a series that ultimately lasted seven games. James drilled this three-pointer to hand the Cavs a 98-95 victory, and he later scored 45 points in the Game 7 win.


    Game 3, 2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals

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    During the next round, Cleveland took a 2-0 advantage on the Toronto Raptors. LeBron tossed the dagger with a remarkable one-handed floater off the backboard for a 3-0 edge. The Cavs cruised to a 35-point win in Game 4 to close out the series.

7. Triple-Double in Playoff Debut (2006 First Round)

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    After the Cavaliers missed the playoffs in James' first two seasons, they finally reached the postseason in 2005-06.

    LeBron announced himself in style.

    Playing all 48 minutes, he racked up 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a 97-86 victory. LeBron joined Johnny McCarthy (1960) and Magic Johnson (1980) as the only players in NBA history to post a triple-double in their playoff debut.

    "Nothing he does surprises me anymore," teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas said at the time, per the New York Times. "He's just a terrific player. He's a tremendous luxury to have, knowing he can go out there any time and put up numbers like that."

6. Buzzer-Beater Against the Magic (2009 Eastern Conference Finals)

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    Although the Orlando Magic ended up winning the series, Game 2 brought the first buzzer-beater of LeBron's postseason career.

    With a single second remaining on the clock, Cleveland trailed 95-93. James faked toward the rim, created a little separation from Hedo Turkoglu and launched a three.

    Cavs fans erupted as Cleveland celebrated a dramatic win that evened the Eastern Conference Finals at one win apiece.

    "You couldn't hear anything but a roar," James said afterward. "Those fans deserved it. That was the biggest shot I've made in my career."

5. 25 Straight Points (2007 Eastern Conference Finals)

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    Though it's not specifically on the list, Cleveland simply reaching the 2007 NBA Finals is one of LeBron's most impressive accomplishments. This roster had no business winning the Eastern Conference, yet he carried the Cavs.

    James' best moment arrived in Game 5 of the ECF.

    In a 2-2 series, Detroit held an 88-81 advantage with 3:15 left in regulation. Cleveland fought back and forced overtime as LeBron scored the last seven points. The teams needed two overtime periods to decide the winner, and James netted all 18 of Cleveland's points to secure a 109-107 victory.

    "We threw everything we had at him," Pistons guard Chauncey Billups said in defeat. "We just couldn't stop him."

    LeBron finished the game with 48 points and seven assists.

4. Back-to-Back NBA Titles (2013 Finals)

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Thanks to Ray Allen's epic three-pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, the Heat stayed alive and forced a Game 7.

    LeBron scored a game-high 37 points, hitting 5-of-10 threes while collecting 12 rebounds and five assists. After the Spurs trimmed Miami's lead to 90-88 with two minutes left, James provided the next four points and a clutch steal to seal the win.

    Not only did Miami repeat as NBA champions, but LeBron also won his second straight Finals MVP honor as well.

3. Destroying the Celtics (2012 Eastern Conference Finals)

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    Nine years into his career, LeBron still hadn't won a title. And after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, the Heat trailed the Boston Celtics 3-2 in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals with the series headed back to the Northeast.

    Despite averaging 31.8 points and 10.0 rebounds against the Celtics to this point, his reputation was called into question.

    James emphatically quieted his critics in Game 6.

    While leading Miami to a 98-79 victory, he scored 45 points on a brilliant and near-unstoppable 19-of-26 shooting mark. He also grabbed 15 rebounds and dished four assists.

    LeBron followed up that performance with 31 points and 12 rebounds in Game 7 to help the Heat reach the NBA Finals.

2. The Cramp Game, 1st NBA Title (2012 Finals)

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    Kind of cheating, perhaps, but the final two contests of the 2012 NBA Finals are tied together.

    Midway through the fourth quarter in Game 4, LeBron tried to drive past Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. However, James lost the dribble and dropped to the floor. Though he banked in a layup soon after, he hobbled back on defense with leg cramps and exited the game for 70 seconds.

    Shortly after returning to the floor, he buried a three-pointer to give Miami a lead it wouldn't relinquish. The Heat won 104-98 and took a 3-1 edge over the Thunder.

    Miami closed out the series in Game 5 as James put up a triple-double with 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds.

    "It's about damn time," a smiling LeBron said after the win.

1. 'The Block' and Cleveland's Title (2016 Finals)

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    After all the points he's accumulated in a 17-year NBA career, a defensive play is the defining moment of LeBron's legacy.

    James left Cleveland for Miami following the 2010 season but returned to the Cavs four years later. Although they reached the NBA Finals in 2015, the Golden State Warriors won the title. And through four games in 2016, Golden State held a 3-1 lead.

    But LeBron scored 41 points in Games 5 and 6. And in the decisive showdown, the Cavs and Warriors fought to the very end.

    As the clock dropped below two minutes left with the score tied at 89, Golden State wing Andre Iguodala started a two-on-one fast break. When it seemed he had an easy layup, LeBron sprinted into the screen and blocked the shot off the backboard.

    One minute later, Kyrie Irving drilled the game-winning shot for the franchise's first-ever NBA title. Plus, it handed the city of Cleveland its first major championship in 52 years.