Having a great NBA Playoffs contest requires a few things. The game needs to have high stakes, there needs to be legendary players involved, and the game needs to have something memorable happen. In the modern NBA, not enough of Michael Jordan’s playoff games were suspenseful enough to warrant a place on a list of the best postseason games ever. But many involving LeBron James do make the cut.
Cavaliers vs. Warriors - Game 7, 2016
There aren’t any games in the NBA with more on the line than a game seven in the NBA Finals. And with James taking on a Warriors team loaded with talent, the finale of their second NBA Finals was always going to be special. And with the back-and-forth nature of the game combined with the truly special finish, this was a game seven that did not disappoint.
With the game coming down to the final minutes, it was expected that the Warriors would have too much firepower for the Cavs. And when Andre Iguodala raced down the floor for what looked like a layup to give Golden State the lead, those expectations looked accurate. But a block of that layup by James, combined with a Kyrie Irving three, kept the Cavs in front when the clock hit zero to cap one of the best Finals games ever with everything on the line.
Celtics vs. Lakers - Game 7, 1984
If you wanted an NBA Playoff series that had star power, the 1984 NBA Finals was the one for you. There were a whopping nine hall of famers on the court during that series, including all-time greats like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. The series lived up to the hype, too, going the full seven games.
In game seven, the Lakers came back from a double-digit deficit to make the game a one-possession contest in the fourth quarter. But a late Magic Johnson turnover sealed the series for the Celtics. The drama of the moment, combined with the shock of the turnover by Johnson, made for incredibly compelling action, and put this game in the Pantheon of all-time great playoff contests.
Of course, the Lakers would recover from the loss as the Showtime teams of that era were among the most successful in league history. But in that moment, they weren’t able to come out on top in the battle of the league’s two dynastic franchises.
Cavaliers vs. Pistons - 2007, double OT
Overtime always makes playoff basketball better. Two teams, unable to decide things in 48 minutes, forced to figure it out in an extra five. Or, in the case of the double-overtime thriller between the Cavs and Pistons in 2007, ten extra minutes. And during those added minutes, LeBron James showed glimpses of the great player he would become in the postseason.
Against the Pistons, who were a traditional power in the East at the time, James went on a one-man scoring run that carried the Cavs to victory. He hit threes, got to the basket at will, and even conquered his career-long struggles at the free throw line to seal the game.
This win helped propel the Cavs to the NBA Finals. There, they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. And while that Cavs team wasn’t ready for the bright lights of the Finals just yet, his performance in one of the best ever playoff games showed that LeBron could do anything in the playoffs. Since then, James has won three Finals MVP awards, and has put his name into the conversation surrounding who the best player of all-time is.