The Miami Heat need defining performances from LeBron James to survive these NBA playoffs. The Heat may have gotten one in Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers on May 30, as James outscored the Pacers by himself in the third quarter of a 90-79 win. If Miami goes on to win a second straight title, James’ work in Game 5 will go down as one of the defining playoff performances of his career — unless he tops it later in this series or in the NBA Finals.
James has a complicated playoff history already with the Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since he didn’t win a championship until last season, he was deemed a postseason failures, especially with his near misses in previous years. But when Miami won it all in 2012, it boosted James’ playoff resume considerably.
Since Michael Jordan won so many championships and playoff games at the last seconds, James may still be lacking by comparison. While he still has performed some late heroics, Jordan never tanked like James did in his final games with the Cavaliers in 2010, nor did he collapse in the NBA finals like James did against the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.
Nevertheless, James is starting to turn his postseason legacy around with the Heat, as Game 5 against the Pacers proved further. What’s more, he may yet have more magic in store over the next few weeks to top his third quarter last night.
For now, his work in leading Miami over Indiana in Game 5 is his definitive playoff performance of 2013. Here’s a list of James’ other defining work during his first eight postseasons with the Cavaliers and Heat.
2006 first round
2006 first round: Game 5 vs Washington Wizards
While James’ ability to win playoff games at the last second came into question over the years, he started his postseason career quite differently. His layup with under a second left gave the Cavaliers a Game 5 win over the Wizards, which propelled Cleveland to victory in James’ first ever postseason series.
2007 Eastern Conference Finals
2007 Eastern Conference Finals: Game 5 vs Detroit Pistons
Scoring 29 of the Cavaliers’ last 30 points, including their last 25, may still be the defining moment of James’ career even after winning the NBA title. But this legendary performance in Game 5 of the conference finals against the much more experienced Detroit Pistons did lead to James’ first NBA Finals appearance — even if he got swept by the San Antonio Spurs afterwards.
2008 second round
2008 second round: Game 7 vs Boston Celtics
James and the Cavaliers couldn’t defend their conference title in 2008, as the Boston Celtics rampaged towards the championship with the original ‘Big Three.’ However, James came close to knocking the Celtics out in the second round, yet he would lose a fourth quarter duel with Paul Pierce in Game 7.
2009 Eastern Conference Finals
2009 Eastern Conference Finals: Game 2 vs Orlando Magic
James’ biggest last second playoff shot came in Game 2 of the 2009 conference finals, as his buzzer beating three-pointer kept the Cavaliers from an 0-2 deficit against the Orlando Magic. However, all it did in the long run was keep the Magic from winning the series much earlier.
2010 Eastern Conference Finals
2010 Eastern Conference Finals: Game 5 vs Celtics
The most infamous game of James’ playoff career — and his entire career in general — came in his last home game with the Cavaliers. With the Eastern Conference finals locked at 2-2 and with the very future of the Cavaliers at stake, James and his team sleepwalked through a 32 point blowout loss, then lost one last time together in Game 6 at Boston.
2011 NBA Finals
2011 NBA Finals: Game 6 vs Dallas Mavericks
The end of James’ next postseason was just as revealing, as he once again looked like he was sleepwalking in the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. 11 months after promising at least seven championships with the Heat, James couldn’t win his first despite a 2-0 series lead over the Mavericks, with Game 6 completing the collapse in Miami.
2012 Eastern Conference Finals
2012 Eastern Conference Finals: Game 6 vs Celtics
James was the 2012 NBA Finals MVP, had a triple double in Game 5 and finally took his place as “The King.” But that never would have happened if he didn’t rack up 45 points and 15 rebounds in Game 6 of the conference finals in Boston, with Miami on the verge of another early elimination. Instead, James saved the Heat, their season and his entire legacy with what may become one of the most significant games in NBA history.
2013 Eastern Conference Finals
2013 Eastern Conference Finals: Game 5 vs Indiana Pacers
James opened the 2013 conference finals with a buzzer-beating layup. However, he came up even bigger in Game 5, with another performance that may have saved a conference final and could propel the Heat to another NBA crown. This time, he outscored the Indiana Pacers by 16-13 in the third quarter and prevented Miami from facing another 3-2 hole on the road.