One of the reasons LeBron James' rare underwhelming postseason series are so vivid in the collective NBA memory is because outside of that small handful of disappointments, he's been consistently excellent in the playoffs.
Grab his numbers from any series in the second season, and it's all but guaranteed: He'll average between 25-30 points, 8-10 boards, and 8-10 assists per game, and he'll win the series in six games or fewer. But as Toronto Raptors fans know all too well, even James has series that stand out from the rest. After well over a decade in the league, he refuses to let us take him for granted.
With apologies to the 2017 Pacers, 2015 Hawks, 2014 Nets, and 2013 Spurs - who would all probably smart to know LBJ's superlative efforts against them weren't his best - here are the 10 greatest playoff series performances of LeBron James' career. Hail to the King, baby.
Stats: 29.8 PPG (48.3% FG - 29.0% 3PT - 70.1% FT), 9.5 RPG, 7.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 2.8 TOV
Outcome: Cavaliers in six
James' first-ever playoff series came against the Washington Wizards - then the team of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison - and he followed up that victory by dispatching them the next two years as well. The 2008 series was the death blow, as the trade deadline-rebuilt Cavs defeated the Wiz (and spiritual mascot Soulja Boy) in six, with James recording a 27-13-13 triple-double in Game 6, and making one of the first great game-winning plays of his career in Game 4, when he found an open Delonte West in the corner for a game-winning triple. Arenas, limping back from injury, was never the same again, and the Wizards' core was broken up a couple years later.
Stats: 25.8 PPG (44.7% FG - 38.9% 3PT - 86.4% FT), 7.8 RPG, 6.6 APG, 2.4 SPG, 1.8 BPG, 3.6 TOV
Outcome: Heat in five
This wasn't James' most overwhelming series statistically, but the way his Heat team handily dispatched the Bulls - then the biggest rival to the newly assembled Big Three's assumed supremacy - was stunning, and LeBron, of course, played the biggest role in that. The prevailing memory of LBJ in this series is of him suffocating Derrick Rose on the perimeter, torturing the Bulls' offensive first option - and the MVP that regular season, an award that arguably should've been LeBron's - into having a fairly brutal series, in which he averaged 23 a game but needed 24 shots (on 35 percent shooting) to do so. Rose got hurt in the first round the next postseason, and the Bulls were never a true threat to James again.
Numbers: 29.0 PPG (51.0% FG - 44.1% 3PT - 77.8% FT), 7.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 2.9 TOV
Outcome: Heat in seven
Few expected the Pacers to be a real challenge to the defending-champion Heat in the 2013 Eastern finals - most didn't think they'd get past the Knicks in the semis - but Indy shocked the NBA world by nearly stealing Game 1 in Miami, then taking Game 2, and eventually forcing a Game 7. James not only drove by temporary rival Paul George for the game-winning OT bucket to save Game 1, but scored a decisive 32 in a blowout Game 7, getting to the free-throw line 16 times and hitting 15 of them. The Heat and Pacers met again in the ECFs the next year, but by then LeBron had Indiana's number, and in 2017, he ended the PG13 era, sweeping Indy in George's final playoff series as a Pacer.
Numbers: 38.5 PPG (48.7% FG - 29.7% 3PT - 74.5% FT), 8.3 RPG, 8.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 4.2 TOV
Outcome: Magic in six
This series produced some of the most eye-popping numbers of James' career, with the King scoring 49 (on 20-of-30 shooting) in Game 1, posting more than 40 in three out of six games (with a 37-14-12 in one of the other three), and averaging an unthinkable 16 trips to the line per game for the series. (And oh yeah, LeBron hit a classic buzzer-beating game-winner in Game 2.) So why only No. 7? Well, because the Cavs somehow lost the series, with the sweet-shooting, Dwight Howard-led Magic improbably stealing Game 1 in Cleveland, then taking their three home games in Orlando, including a Game 6 closeout that was never close. LeBron was partly blamed for the series loss, though looking at the numbers, it's hard to imagine what else he could've done.
Numbers: 25.7 PPG (44.9% FG - 35.7% 3PT - 74.1% FT), 9.2 RPG, 8.5 APG, 2.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 3.2 TOV
Outcome: Cavs in six
The numbers from this one might not look as eye-popping as you may remember, partly because the Pistons shut down LeBron in the first two games of the series, with the King shooting under 40 percent and failing to break 20 in either game. But of course, this series looms large in LeBron lore, not just because it resulted in his first trip to The Finals, but because it contains his first true signature playoff performance: a 48-9-7 line in a double-OT win to keep the Cavaliers alive in Game 6, including scoring the final 25 points for Cleveland. The Cavs would get swept by San Antonio in the finals, but James' playoff legacy had truly just begun.
Numbers: 28.6 PPG (47.2% FG - 18.8% 3PT - 82.6% FT), 10.2 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 3.8 TOV
Outcome: Heat in five
Not really a signature series, but one of absurd consistency for James, who scored between 26 and 32 and shot between 45 and 50 percent in each of the five games - essentially playing generational rival Kevin Durant to a draw, and winning his first-ever NBA championship in the process. It was a close five-game series, but a mere five-game series nonetheless, and was capped by LBJ with a 26-11-13 triple-double in a game that was basically over by the fourth quarter - after which, of course, the King was awarded the first of his three Finals MVP designations to date.
Numbers: 35.8 PPG (39.8% FG - 31.0% 3PT - 68.7% FT), 13.3 RPG, 8.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 3.5 TOV
Outcome: Warriors in six
The Cavaliers lost in six and James shot under 40 percent for the series, something he might never do again in the postseason. So why so high? Well, because LeBron somehow got his Cavs up 2-1 in a series where Cleveland's second- and third-best players (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) were both out with injury, and they were playing a Warriors team on the path to dynasty status. He went to the post seemingly every possession, backing the Warriors into submission, getting to the line 11 times a game, and finding ways to get on the board. It was an inspiring-enough performance that Andre Iguodala won Finals MVP for GSW in large part for slowing James a bit for the final three games of the series.
Numbers: 34.0 PPG (55.3% FG - 16.7% 3PT - 57.6% FT), 8.3 RPG, 11.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.0 TO, 2.0 TOV
Outcome: Cavaliers in four
James has appeared indomitable in dozens of playoff series, but in only a select few has he seemed downright cruel. That was undoubtedly the case this postseason against the Raptors, when LeBron shook off a Game 1 his slumping Cavaliers very easily could've lost and responded by giving them 48 minutes of noogies and wet willies in Game 2 (43-14-8, including a handful of the most laughable turnaround jumpers you've ever seen go down in a playoff game), and then letting them battle back from double digits down in Game 3, only to slice their throats with a casual one-handed, one-footed banker for the victory at the buzzer. The Raps got swept in a season they were the 1-seed and LeBron's supporting cast had never seemed weaker, and now it's back to the drawing board for them - and maybe the rest of the East.
Numbers: 34.6 PPG (52.7% FG - 29.0% 3PT - 65.0% FT), 11.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 3.4 TOV
Outcome: Heat in seven
This was arguably the most important series of James' career, in which he exorcised the demons of Celtics series past by falling down 3-2 and then bouncing back in Games 6 and 7 - his outing in the former enduring as one of the most legendary playoff performances in NBA history. LeBron scored an astounding 45 on 19-of-26 shooting, to go with 15 boards and five dimes, as he effectively ended the Big Three era in Boston on its own parquet floor, and confirmed that the Big Three era in Miami was now undeniable. (For good measure, he also put up 31 and 12 in Game 7, and was a plus-13 in a game where that stood as the exact margin of victory.)
Numbers: 29.7 PPG (49.4% FG - 37.1% 3PT - 72.1% FT), 11.3 RPG, 8.9 APG, 2.6 SPG, 2.3 BPG, 4.4 TOV
Outcome: Cavaliers in seven
Was there any doubt? James averaged an efficient 30-11-9, engineering the greatest comeback in NBA postseason history against the team with the best regular-season record ever. He scored 41 each in Games 5 and 6, and - as is something of a signature for him - posted a triple-double in the classic Game 7, with a 27-11-11 line for the night, as well as perhaps the most famous defensive play in league history (see below). It was a performance and a series for the ages, and ensured LeBron's place in the GOAT conversation for all time, if there was anybody left who thought he wasn't already there.