It was a performance worthy of the greatest players ever in NBA history. Ben Simmons, the heir apparent to LeBron James, played as well as any of his idol’s opponents, delivering a triple-double and a 132-130 Philadelphia 76ers win to take the third seed in Eastern Conference from the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.
With an amazing performance from the rookie, you have to wonder how good he can be. But one thing is clear, the game he put on is good enough to be considered one of the best that’s ever been played versus the King.
How good was it? Let’s countdown the top 10 greatest performances versus LeBron James.
10. Ben Simmons: 27 points, 15 rebounds, 13 assists, 4 steals, 1 block
Date: April 6, 2018
Result: Philadelphia 76ers 132, Cleveland Cavaliers 130
LeBron James: 44 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Simmons showcased an array of moves in a masterful performance that looked more like an audition for James to consider him worthy to be a teammate next season. The 6-foot-11 rookie matched the triple-double that the King produced to eke out a two-point win on a night that determined who would take sole possession of the third seed in the East.
James and the Cavs were down by 30 points in the first half before they came roaring back with a furious rally to nearly beat the young Sixers, who were without the injured Joel Embiid. The Cavaliers came storming back to overcome one of the biggest deficits they had ever faced this season, which was something that James and his teammates could hang their hats on.
“You get down 30 in the postseason, that can lose you a series,” James said.
The cost was the Cavaliers went down by a game in the standings to the Sixers. The victory marked Philly’s 13th straight (now up to 14), the longest current win streak in the league.
Simmons’ 27 points tied for the third-highest points of his young career. He is not known as a scorer and would rather facilitate the offense and dish the ball to an open teammate. He shot a sizzling 12-of-17 for a 71 percent shooting mark.
“He’s a student of the game. He wants to be great,” James said.
James could have tied the game at the end when he was fouled taking a three-point shot with 1.9 seconds remaining. He made his first free throw but missed the second. He had to intentionally miss the third for a chance to get the offensive rebound and score on a put-back, but Larry Nance, Jr. missed the tip in that could have sent the game into overtime.
The 14-time All-Star scored 21 points in the third quarter but could not stop Simmons from giving the Sixers one of their biggest wins of the season. The otherworldly show that the Sixers’ point guard put on was as entertaining as any performance by any of the league’s best this season.
But the win was more important, as Philly became more confident that it can play with the best, winning for the fifth straight time even without its All-Star center.
“They completely understand that it’s now April and we’re going to blink and be playing in the playoffs,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “You see them trending in a very competitive winning way.”
Simmons ran the show almost to perfection, dishing out beautiful passes, showcasing a number of jaw-dropping dribbling moves, and bringing out his entire repertoire of offensive moves to the astonishment of the crowd.
“This was big, beating a team like that without an All-Star,” Simmons said. “I think everyone is coming together as a team. We are playing well.”
At the end of the game, James and Simmons shared a hug and then chatted with Embiid as if to plan their next adventure together. Whatever their discussions were, it was definitely a fun duel for James and Simmons as much as it was entertaining for the fans.
To top it off, Sixers legend Allen Iverson was in attendance, no doubt highly enthralled by the new blood that has taken over his former stomping grounds.
Simmons is the real deal, and on this night, no Sixer shined brighter.
9. Blake Griffin: 43 points, 15 rebounds, 6 assists
Date: February 5, 2014
Result: Miami Heat 116, L.A. Clippers 112
LeBron James: 31 points, 8 rebounds, 12 assists, 3 steals, 1 block
Back when James was still playing in Miami, he faced Blake Griffin at his finest. On this night, Griffin led all scorers with 43 points, but it was all for naught as the Heat held off the Clippers in a close 116-112 win.
He scored 22 points in the first half and continued his scoring binge over the next two quarters.
The problem was Griffin and his Clippers were facing a defending champion Heat team that knew how to close out games. Even though he didn’t score as much as Griffin did, James still submitted 31 points, notching another near triple-double as he took over the game for the Heat.
Ray Allen spoiled Griffin’s big night when he hit a three-pointer in the final minute that practically clinched the game for the Heat. The win snapped a five-game road losing streak for Miami.
The Clippers got the Cavs’ lead down to four points, 99-95, when they had a 10-0 run finished off by Griffin’s tip-in with only 5:15 left in the game. But James staved off the rally with a three-pointer and a layup 53 seconds apart.
“Obviously we’ve had our battles with Doc, being in the Eastern Conference for so long, so we know how well his team is going to be prepared,” James said. “I think it was just our mental toughness, especially in the third quarter when they made their run. We just stayed composed and found a way to get a win. We made stops and executed offensively.”
Griffin was a monster off the boards as well, grabbing more than his 9.5 rebounding average for the year. Not only that, his 6 assists were more than two above his 3.9 season average. He did everything for the Clippers to win, but James and Allen refused to let Miami lose.
The Heat had outstanding ball movement in this game, registering 33 assists on 41 field goals.
“We pride ourselves on moving the ball, and we know that makes it easier for all of us,” James said. “We keep everyone in a rhythm when we’re passing the ball and sharing the ball. Tonight we had some turnovers, including myself. I mean, I was the main culprit (with seven), and I’ve got to be more conscious of that and not turn the ball over so much.”
8. Richard Hamilton: 44 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists
Date: November 28, 2003
Result: Detroit Pistons 92, Cleveland Cavaliers 88
LeBron James: 6 points, 2 rebounds, 7 assists
Early in James’ career, his game was lacking in consistency. So on a night when an opposing player was running roughshod over his team’s defense, the 18-year old rookie had no answer for the hot-shooting Richard Hamilton.
The Detroit Pistons’ shooting guard scored a then career-high 44 points as he led the Pistons to a 92-88 win, extending the Cavaliers’ road losing streak at the time to 31 games.
James scored a measly 6 points on 2-of-8 shooting while allowing Hamilton to score 14 points in the first quarter alone.
“He was on fire,” James said. “When you’re on fire, it doesn’t matter who you put on him. He was unguardable. He’s one of the most underrated players in the league.”
Hamilton was 15-of-23 from the field and 13-of-15 at the line.
“I might of scored 69 when I was 13, 14-years-old, but since junior high, this is my career-high,” Hamilton said.
More importantly, the Pistons had won six of their past eight games.
Ricky Davis took over the scoring burden for the Cavaliers, putting up 25 points for the wine and gold.
The Cavaliers led by five points with 5:09 left. They needed to finish strong in order to snap the road losing that dated back to the previous season. Unfortunately, the Pistons got hot, scoring 10 straight points to take a stranglehold on the game and finish off the Cavs.
“We never panic,” said Hamilton.
At this point early in his career, James was leading the Cavs in scoring, averaging 17.3 points a night.
“I didn’t take enough shots,” James said.
Hamilton ran him off screens, beat him off the dribble, and flat out outplayed him in the first quarter before Cavs coach Paul Silas took him off the assignment. Alas, no one else was able to contain the Pistons’ All-Star either as he annihilated every defender Cleveland threw at him.
7. Gilbert Arenas: 45 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals
Date: November 18, 2006
Result: Washington Wizards 111, Cleveland Cavaliers 99
LeBron James: 20 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals
There was a time when the Washington Wizards and the Cavaliers had a semi-rivalry, but this was in the very early stages of that. It was also early in the season, but Gilbert Arenas didn’t care. He was in playoff mode already, scoring 45 points to lead the Wizards to a lopsided 111-99 win.
Arenas needed to play huge after his team lost three straight games. In the previous four games, he was held below 30 points, making this a critical game, not just for the Wizards, but for Agent Zero himself.
In order to break out of his slump, Arenas arrived four hours before tipoff. He didn’t stop taking threes until he knocked down 250 of them. He then shot a wide array of shots from different spots on the floor until he made 150.
It was all he needed to catch fire for the Wizards to end the Cavs’ five-game winning streak.
His teammate and future LeBron James-rival, DeShawn Stevenson, knew what to do when Arenas goes off like that, especially during a stretch in which he scored 18 of his team’s 20 points.
“When Gil gets it going,” he said, “you’ve got to sit back and relax and let the show go.”
The budding rivalry was fueled by the Cavs eliminating the Wizards from the playoffs the previous year. Cleveland once again defeated them in the season opener in which Arenas was held to just 7 points.
But the Wizards’ high scoring guard would not be held back on this night as he made 7 three-pointers and 14-of-22 from the field overall. At this point in his career, he recorded his 22nd 40-point game and third of the season.
Interestingly, the less-than-30-points streak was Arenas’ longest since March of 2005.
“Couldn’t find a shot,” Arenas said. “Couldn’t feel it.”
He had a poor shooting first quarter as well and it appeared that he was going to be held under 30 for the fifth straight time. Then, he started getting hot in the second, scoring 15 before following it up with 17 in the third.
The Cavaliers played without Arenas’ former teammate Larry Hughes, who was nursing an injury. Hughes was one of the best defenders on Arenas whenever the two faced off.
“I don’t think Larry could have stopped that, either,” Arenas said. “He could have tried, but I don’t think he could have stopped that performance.”
James could only agree with the Wizards guard.
“The way he was in his comfort zone tonight, it didn’t matter who was on him,” he said.
Arenas set himself up for a big game and he made sure everyone was ready for it, too, by giving away “Agent Zero” T-shirts to the sellout crowd.
6. Paul George: 43 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals, 1 block
Date: April 2, 2017
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers 135, Indiana Pacers 130 2 OT
LeBron James: 41 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
James admired Paul George’s game during his time with the Miami Heat, as their teams clashed in the Eastern Conference playoffs a couple of times.
Last year, the Indiana Pacers were outside of the playoff picture and a win would’ve brought them a step closer to the postseason. George put up a valiant effort as he nearly had a triple-double against James, who was able to record the feat.
George did what he could as he almost willed his team to a win, but they ultimately lost 135-130 in two extra periods.
He scored 19 consecutive points during the two overtimes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough as the Pacers lost their eighth straight game on the road.
“If we play like that to finish the season off I’ll be happy with where we land,” George said. “If we can give this effort, we’ll make the playoffs.”
The Pacers were tied with the Miami Heat for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Heat owned the tiebreaker.
In this game, James tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the second-longest streak of scoring 10 points or more, doing so in 787 career games.
5. James Harden: 41 points, 7 rebounds, 15 assists, 1 steal
Date: November 1, 2016
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers 128, Houston Rockets 120
LeBron James: 19 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists
The Houston Rockets weren’t championship contenders yet but they were a very good team because of the presence of James Harden. The Cavaliers were defending world champions in the 2016-17 season, and the confidence that came with it helped them overcome Harden’s 41-point, 15-assist game, defeating the Houston Rockets 128-120.
Kyrie Irving’s 32 points led the Cavs on a night when James wasn’t up to his usual scoring standards with just 19 points. Per usual, the 4-time MVP contributed in other ways, as he almost had another triple-double.
Harden shot 13-of-20 from the field, including 5-of-9 from three-point range and 10-of-14 from the free-throw line. He was practically unstoppable on his way to a season-high early in the year.
Many of his 15 assists were spectacular, as he found open teammates whenever he drove down the lane. He delivered on alley-oops, behind-the-backs, and no-look passes.
But Harden was also quick to give the Cavaliers credit for hitting one clutch shot after another.
“They didn’t miss the last five or six minutes,” he said. “Some shots we wanted to live with and some shots they just made.”
Chief among those who spoiled Harden’s special night was Irving, who made 10-of-19 field goals including a very accurate 4-of-6 shooting from the three-point line and a clutch shot from beyond the arc with 34.6 seconds to go.
“He’s growing every day,” said James. “He’s only 24 years old. He’s special.”
If the Cavs hadn’t made 13-of-15 from the field in the fourth quarter, the Rockets might have had a chance to win the ballgame, especially with Harden’s hot-shooting. But the wine and gold were also red-hot from the field, making their last eight shots.
“It’s all about executing down the stretch,” Irving said. “That’s not necessarily hard for us. It’s just about consistently getting better.”
Harden thought that there were some positive things they could take away from the game.
“It was a good test for us,” he said. “Playing against the defending champions on their home court, we can take some good things out of this.”
4. Manu Ginobili: 46 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists
Date: February 13, 2008
Result: San Antonio Spurs 112, Cleveland Cavaliers 105
LeBron James: 39 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 block
It was one very special night for Manu Ginobili, who made a career-high eight three-pointers on his way to a season-high 46 points. He outdueled James, who did quite well for his team with 39 points. Unfortunately, his Cavs lost to the San Antonio Spurs, 112-105.
It was a matchup of the 2007 NBA finalists, but San Antonio was missing the services of Tony Parker, the Finals MVP, who was out because of an injury.
Ginobili more than made up for his teammate’s absence by making unbelievable shots from everywhere, draining 15 of his 20 field goals while going 8-of-11 from downtown. As breathtaking as his performance was during the first three quarters, the Argentinian guard was even more devastating in the fourth.
He was perfect from three-point land, knocking down four of them and scoring 18 points in the final stanza to give San Antonio the win.
“I’m just happy he’s on my team,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. “He’s unbelievable when he gets rolling like that. The funny part is, I’ve seen him do it before.”
With Ginobili taking the lead, the rest of the Spurs followed, making 7-of-8 from beyond the arc in the fourth and 14-of-18 from the field.
Not to be outdone, James carried the Cavaliers on his back with 18 points in the fourth.
Ginobili, however, was better on this night, leading James to shake his head at the Spurs guard’s once-in-a-lifetime outing.
“It was unbelievable,” James said. “There’s nothing you can do when a guy get hot like that. He shot step-back 3s. He shot pull-up 3s. It was a great performance by Manu.”
“Manu Ginobili’s a bad boy,” Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown added.
Ginobili’s incredible showing came on the heels of a 34-point game against the Toronto Raptors. He made 19 threes over the past three games, culminating in the face-off against the Cavs.
“It was a special game,” Ginobili said. “I was feeling good from the beginning. I felt like every shot was going to go in, and it did.”
Even his hard-to-please coach, Gregg Popovich, was quite amazed on this night.
“Manu is Manu,” Popovich said. “He’s one of the most unbelievable competitors I’ve been around. That’s why he has NBA championships and Olympic championships and European championships. He’s a pretty special guy.”
Prior to the game, James made a comment that the Finals sweep by the Spurs didn’t discourage him.
“It definitely hurt to lose and not being able to compete the way we had,” he said. “But we got beat by a better team. They were head and shoulders better than us, so it wasn’t a hard pill for me to swallow. If it was a team we knew we should have beat, it would have been hard.”
3. Tracy McGrady: 41 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 steals, 1 block
Date: December 25, 2003
Result: Orlando Magic 113, Cleveland Cavaliers 101 OT
LeBron James: 34 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
From the very beginning when they first faced, Tracy McGrady had been impressed with James, and with good reason. McGrady put up one of his best scoring performances of the season, leading his Orlando Magic to a 113-101 overtime win on Christmas Day, but there was a sense of awe and wonder in his voice when he talked about his opponent.
“He’s unbelievable,” McGrady said about James. “He’s not 18. Can’t possibly be. If he continues to work hard and stay hungry, it can be ugly. It’s scary how good he can be. You just look at him, man. The poise that he has out on the basketball court. The confidence. He has that swagger.”
At the time, McGrady was one of the NBA’s brightest young stars at only 24 years old, already a three-time All-Star. He poured in 41 points, admitting that he received extra motivation as he looked forward to the matchup with the rookie.
“Absolutely,” McGrady said. “It’s Christmas. I would like to be home with my family. But it’s my job to come out and perform. And when you have a guy like LeBron coming into town with all the hype around him, everybody’s going to be tuned in and want to see the outcome. You have no choice but to get yourself ready to play.”
The two stars went at it throughout the game, as the future league MVP nearly upstaged the Magic star. Unfortunately, he missed all four shots that he took in overtime.
“I play the same way every game,” James said. “It doesn’t matter who I play against or what team we are playing against. I just try and help my team win.”
He added that the two of them play different positions and they were hardly guarding one another.
“He is an All-Star,” James continued. “He is a future Hall of Famer. Guys like him, you cannot stop. You can only hope to contain him.”
After Juwan Howard scored the Magic’s first eight points in overtime, it was time for McGrady to finish off the Cavaliers, as he made two three-pointers. This was his second 40-plus point game of the season.
Magic coach Johnny Davis was impressed by James but reserved the better compliments for his own superstar.
“Tracy’s a big-time player, there’s no question, as is LeBron James,” Davis said. “But T-Mac’s focus is not on any one-on-one contest between him and LeBron or him and anyone else. He understands that it’s about our team and what he does for our team in terms of making us better.”
McGrady was on fire from the start, making three consecutive shots, two of which were wide-open dunks. However, James played better than McGrady in the opening quarter as he made his first four field goals, eventually going 5-of-7 for 14 points.
T-Mac was 8-of-14 from the field, scoring 19 points at the half. In response to the Magic star’s onslaught, James would score 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, including a scorching 4-of-5 three-point shooting.
2. Dwyane Wade: 44 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Date: April 1, 2006
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers 106, Miami Heat 99
LeBron James: 47 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals
Dwyane Wade and James put on a show reminiscent of the Game 7 shootout in the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins. Bird’s Celtics won the game against Wilkins’ Hawks that night.
On this night between Cleveland and Miami, James was Bird and Wade was Wilkins as the Cavaliers beat the Heat, 106-99. Both players just missed a triple-double with James coming oh-so-close again. He was just one assist shy of accomplishing the feat.
Wade and James scored 44 and 47 points, respectively, trading baskets in the most crucial moments of the game.
Heat coach Pat Riley was thoroughly impressed.
“People got a view of absolute greatness,” Riley said. “It’s absolutely beyond description. I haven’t seen players do that in a long, long time.”
Despite the loss, Wade was feeling quite good about himself.
“It’s probably the best matchup I’ve been in,” said Wade. “It was great for the game. It was two young guys trying to propel their teams to a win. I had fun. I know he had fun.”
It was during the second half that James and Wade went mano-a-mano, drawing oohs-and-ahhs from the sold-out Cleveland crowd. They literally faced-off by defending one another multiple times, including a battle for a loose ball.
Wade scored 21 points, with 12 of them accounting for the Heat’s final tallies of the night. He had to take over the game in the absence of all-world center, Shaquille O’Neal.
“He surprises me sometimes but he’s Flash and can dominate a game,” James said.
With only 1:13 remaining in the game, James put Cleveland up 101-99 on a dunk, as he gave the Cavs a lead that they never relinquished despite Wade’s heroics.
Wade shot 18-of-36 field goals while James went 16-for-25.
The two players hugged one another after the game, displaying a friendship that would eventually lead them to team up together in Miami four years later when James would leave the Cavs to have a better shot at winning a championship.
“We have love for each other. We are great friends,” James said. “I told him to keep doing what he was doing for his team, and he said the same to me. We love competing against one another.”
“That’s what the NBA is about, two young up and coming guys having big games like that,” Heat guard Gary Payton said.
In this game, Wade broke Miami’s single-season scoring record with 1,894 points and finish the season with 2,040 points. He would break it again 3 years later when he scored a total of 2,386 points in 2008-09.
1. Paul Pierce: 50 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists
Date: February 15, 2006
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers 113, Boston Celtics 109 2 OTs
LeBron James: 43 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks
James has several playoff battles with the Boston Celtics over the course of his career, and he particularly had a bit of a rivalry with their star, Paul Pierce.
But back in 2006, there wasn’t a rivalry to speak of with the Cavaliers leader still in his third year in the league.
On this night, Pierce may have started the eventual fierce rivalry between the two. Over the next few years, he would battle James in crucial games that would ultimately become defining moments in the Cavaliers star’s career.
The Celtics small forward was on fire as he made 17-of-36 shots from the field and 16-of-20 from the line, scoring 50 points despite not making a single three-point shot. His 50-point output was the highest points ever by a Celtics player since Larry Bird scored 50 on Nov. 10, 1989. It had been more than 16 years since any Celtic matched Bird’s scoring mark.
In spite of Pierce’s career high, James had the last laugh as the Cavs overcame the Celtics 113-109 in double overtime. The 6-foot-8 James finished the game with his fourth triple-double of the season, scoring 43 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing the rock for 11 assists. Even with the loss, Pierce was extremely proud of his accomplishment.
“I really got into a groove in the second half,” Pierce said. “Guys were getting the ball to me. It felt good to me. You know, it would have felt a lot better if we would have been on the other side, but it was just a great game to be a part.”
The Celtics played catch up in this game, trailing by as many as 13 points until Pierce scored 31 in the second half to keep them within striking distance. He would foul out late with a minute left in the second overtime.
As a result of James’ own aggressiveness, he drew Pierce’s last fou.
“We just made the big play at the end,” James said. “We just willed a way to win. This was one of the wildest games, especially on the road. But I love it. Being on the road, you got the fans against you and we found a way to win. It was awesome.”
As good as James was, Pierce was even better, as he outscored the young prodigy 17-6 in the fourth quarter.
Nevertheless, the Cavs still won, but The Truth acquitted himself with a career night.