LeBron James has made six straight NBA Finals, a remarkable feat in a career full of them. He’s four wins away from his seventh straight Eastern Conference championship, although he and the Cavaliers will have to get through the Celtics first.
Ahead of Wednesday’s conference finals matchup between the East’s top two seeds, let’s take a look at James’ 10 greatest playoff moments, an ever-evolving list.
— Rankings by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.
10. Tallies triple-double in playoff debut
It took three years for James to make the postseason with Cleveland, in 2006, but it was worth the wait. James became the first player since Magic Johnson to tally a triple-double in his playoff debut, notching 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists to top the Wizards. He then banked in a winner and scored 41 points in Game 3 — a record high for a player making his road playoff debut — before connecting on another game-winner, a layup, in Game 5. The fourth-seeded Cavs won the series in six and made a spirited push in the next round against top-seeded Detroit before falling in seven games.
9. Leads last-minute comeback to beat Chicago, make Finals
A 21-point Game 1 loss to the top-seeded Bulls did little to discourage James and the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, as they won the next four games to make the first of their four straight Finals appearances. The wildest finish came in the clincher, when the Heat trailed by 12 with just over three minutes left before James led a crazy comeback, scoring eight points and blocking MVP Derrick Rose’s potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to clinch an 83-80 win.
8. Dunks on Boston “with no regard for human life”
Only Kevin Harlan’s words can appropriately describe this one, a dunk that highlighted the Cavs’ 88-77 Game 4 win over the Celtics in the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals. (Boston went on to win in seven.)
7. Leads undermanned Cavs to 2-1 Finals lead in 2015
The first showdown in the Cavaliers-Warriors rivalry saw Cleveland put a scare into the Bay Area by winning two of the first three games... without an injured Kevin Love and — outside of Game 1 — without an injured Kyrie Irving. Golden State prevailed by winning the next three games to capture the title, but this series was much more competitive than it should have been.
6. Scores 25 straight points to beat Pistons in 2007
James scored Cleveland’s final 25 points — including a dunk that forced the first OT and the game-winner in the second OT — to lead the Cavs to a 109-107 double-OT win in Detroit in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs finished the Pistons off in Game 6 to make their first ever Finals appearance.
5. Hits buzzer-beating 3 to top Magic in 2009
Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals was a tense, back-and-forth affair, with Hedo Turkoglu hitting a jumper with one second left to give Orlando a two-point lead. But James answered, catching an inbounds pass and firing off a 3 — contested by Turkoglu — that dropped through the net at the buzzer, giving Cleveland a 96-95 win to even the series at 1-1. The Magic would go on to win the series in six.
4. Scores 45 in must-win against Celtics
The Celtics had won three straight games in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals to take a 3-2 lead heading back to Boston, with a chance to clinch a Finals appearance. For a title-less James, whose Heat had surrendered a 2-1 Finals lead the year before, the vultures were out. But he silenced those critics, dominating the Celtics from start to finish as he scored 45 points (off 19-for-26 shooting), pulled down 15 rebounds and dished out five assists to lead Miami to a 98-79 win. The Heat finished the job in Game 7, coming back from eight down in the second half to win 101-88 and make the Finals for the second straight season.
3. Captures first title over Thunder
After dispatching Boston, James got the championship monkey off his back, leading the Heat to four straight wins to beat Oklahoma City 4-1 and win his first title. James had a triple-double in the 121-106 clincher — 26 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists — and earned Finals MVP honors to go with is regular-season MVP crown. James averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists for the series.
2. Leads Heat back in Finals to beat Spurs
After helping key a last-minute comeback to force OT in a Game 6 for the ages, James led the Heat to a 95-88 Game 7 win over San Antonio to win his second title. His jumper with 27.9 seconds left gave Miami a four-point lead and all but sealed the deal. James finished with 37 points and 12 rebounds, and he again was named Finals MVP after being voted the regular-season MVP. It would turn out to be the first of his memorable Game 7 performances in the Finals.
1. Comes from 3-1 down to win Cavs’ first title
It will be hard for James to ever top this moment: A return to Cleveland, a return to the Finals and a three-game winning streak with his back against the wall — against a 73-win team, no less — to snap his home city’s 52-year championship drought. The Cavs trailed the historically-great Warriors 3-1 in the 2016 NBA Finals, but James keyed a rally. He posted 41 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists in a 112-97 Game 5 win and he posted 41 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists in a 115-101 Game 6 victory. Finally, in an instant classic Game 7, James went for 27, 11 and 11 — and had perhaps the most iconic block in NBA history — as the Cavs shocked the Warriors on their home court for a second time, winning 93-89 for their first-ever title. James got Ring No. 3, and Finals MVP No. 3. And he earned King status throughout Northeast Ohio forever.