One of the greatest to grace the hard floorboards of NBA courts, LeBron James continues to reign supreme on the league. At the (older) age of 35 the King found himself well and truly in the MVP conversation during the 2019-20 NBA season, prior to its suspension. The Lakers were the top seed out West with a 49-14 record, and James’ numbers ranged around his typical best averaging 25.7 points, 10.6 assists and 7.9 rebounds a game.
But his heroics of the last five months are not the first we’ve seen. Like any commonly referred to GOAT, James has a résumé filled with big-time performances.
Here’s a look at one of his three best, and perhaps his very best, coming in the 2012 playoffs. James was hitting his prime in the early 2010’s with every aspect of his swiss army knife-type game coming together, including the growth of his mental strength which was his achilles heel.
This is a performance that showcased the birth of his peak.
2012 Eastern Conference finals vs Boston Celtics, Game 6
The numbers: 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 19 of 26 field goals, +22 plus/minus in 45 minutes of play
The 2011-12 NBA season, which was cut short due to the fourth lockout in league history, was reduced from 82 games to 66 and tipped off on Christmas Day instead of November 1. Despite the changes LeBron James, playing for the Miami Heat in season number two of the Big Three era, was up to his usual tricks, averaging 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists a game, shooting a then career high 53.1 per cent from the field, en route to his third MVP award as the Heat finished with a 46-20 record out East.
They looked primed to return to the NBA finals with an array of weapons at their disposal, far stronger than what any other team in the league could seemingly put togther.
Fast forward to game six of the Eastern Conference finals, Miami were up against a rejuvenated Boston Celtics team that had overcome their aging roster to take a surprising 3-2 series lead, after trailing 2-0. Boston were back home, where they had accumulated an 8-1 record to that point in the playoffs, and looked set to meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals.
The underlying storyline aside from the two teams’ destinies was LeBron James’ legacy and where it stands if Miami did fall short of the title once again, a year after they lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the finals. But game six proved to be his ‘step up’ moment.
Flashback Friday: LeBron James’ INSANE Game 6 performance vs. the Celtics in the 2012 ECF to force Game 7
— Overtime Max 👨🏾💻⭕️ (@MaxMakeMoves) May 18, 2018
The face he donned prior to tip-off, one with clear determination and a sense of anger while leaning down with his hands on his knees, painted all too well a picture of what was about to happen.
The King exploded; bullying the Celtics with his size and speed, and propped his prolific scoring ability at the forefront of his gameplan. James hit six of his first seven shots, scoring 14 of his side’s first 24 points and helping them to a double-digit lead at the conclusion of the first quarter.
It was not just easy lay-ins in the paint that were dominating his stat sheet, the opposite if anything. While blowing by defenders for explosive dunks, he was nailing fadeaway shots as well as deep jumpers. That seems customary for the King nowadays; eight years ago though he lacked that consistent jump shot and fear often hindered his ability to rise to the occasion.
The onslaught continued and while James nailed everything he put up, he excelled in other areas too. At one point while double-teamed, he was able to find an open Mario Chalmers for a three pointer that isolated a minor Celtics run mid-way through the second quarter. Another saw him leap up high above the rim to ferociously put back a Chris Bosh miss. Those are just two of many moments.
Come the end of the half, James had mustered an impressive 30 points off 86 per cent shooting, putting the Heat up comfortably 55-42.
The sheer dominance created a comfortable advantage for Miami down the stretch, and the King was able to dial back his intensity with a mere (in comparison) 15 points in the second half, 11 of which came in the third quarter, with Dwyane Wade shouldering the scoring load. James was instead particularly strong on the glass grabbing 10 more boards.
The Heat coasted to a 98-79 victory, with James accounting for 46 per cent of his team’s total points.
How special was the performance? Forget game five of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, this was the first time the world saw LeBron James perform at an incredibly high level on the big stage with monumental pressure on his shoulders. It was a reaction, with his back to the wall and his legacy on the line. He was unstoppable with the ball in hand, most notably in the first half which helped set the tone for the rest of the game. The Celtics lack of athleticism proved costly, and their highly regarded defence was completely overwhelmed by the NBA’s greatest all-round physical talent.
The win took the series back to Miami for the deciding game seven, which was won by the hosts who returned to the finals for a second consecutive year. The team continued that momentum through to the finals, where they defeated the Thunder 4-1 after dropping the first game. James received the finals MVP along with his first ring.
One performance helped claim two pieces of silverware.
Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.