LeBron James’ 10 greatest shots ever, ranked
LeBron James is a generational superstar. He will go down as one of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood.
Yet, there was a time in King James’ career when he was considered to be rather underwhelming as a clutch performer.
The numbers actually support LeBron being an excellent performer in the clutch. Plus, James has delivered some of the more memorable playoff buzzer-beaters in recent memory in the past few seasons.
But what shots stand out as the best of the best for James? Here is a closer look at the top 10 shots of LeBron’s career.
For reference, this list will focus on singular moments. As such, the aforementioned scoring stretch against the Pistons will not be on the list.
10. Sinking the Wizards
LeBron actually had a pair of game-winning shots against the Washington Wizards during the first round of the 2006 playoffs.
But whereas his go-ahead layup in Game 3 was rather controversial, this effort cinched his status as the closer for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavs trailed the Wizards 120-119 in Game 5 with under four seconds left, but James managed to take an inbounds pass and skirt the baseline boundary for the layup.
The Cavs would also go on to win Game 6 to close out the series.
But they might not have advanced past the first round were it not for James’ heroics.
9. James Outduels Paul George
The 2012-13 Miami Heat will certainly go down as one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
That team rattled off a 27-game win streak, with LeBron putting together arguably the finest season of his career.
The Eastern Conference playoffs were supposed to be a formality for James and the Heat. They swept the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and dispatched the Chicago Bulls in the conference semifinals before taking on the Indiana Pacers.
Indiana made it clear from the start they would not simply lay down for Miami. The Pacers played a physical, defensive breed of basketball, and Paul George was emerging as one of the better wing players in the league.
George hit a miraculous three-pointer to send the game into overtime, and the Pacers even took the lead in the closing seconds when George was inexplicably fouled on a three-point attempt.
However, James would not allow the Heat to lose Game 1 on their home floor. He needed just two seconds to receive an inbounds and get to the rim for a game-winning layup.
The Pacers would indeed test the Heat, pushing the series to seven games.
Miami might even have lost their grip on the series had they lost Game 1. But LeBron had other ideas.
James owned the Raptors during his second stint in Cleveland, routinely denying Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan opportunities to compete for an NBA title.
But the Raptors seemed to have a fighting chance against the Cavs in the 2018 conference semifinals. Cleveland had just been pushed to seven games by the Pacers, and the team had been enraptured in constant drama throughout the year.
Instead, LeBron continued his reign of terror over the Raptors.
The Cavs swept Toronto, with LeBron elegantly beating the buzzer with a spectacular, coast-to-coast floater in Game 3.
Cleveland might have looked the part of the wounded competitor entering the series.
But LeBron left no doubt he was still the best player in the world by the time he was done toasting the Raptors.
7. Vanquishing the Celtics
The Celtics had been a thorn in LeBron’s side at the end of the 2000s.
James struggled immensely in their 2008 matchup, and another loss at the hands of the Celtics in 2010 prompted LeBron to take his talents–in his words–to Miami.
But LeBron would get his revenge over Boston. The Heat overwhelmed the Celtics in the 2011 conference semifinals.
James personally propelled the Heat past the Celtics in Game 5. The game was tied at 87 before James hit a three to give the Heat the lead. But it his next triple–a dagger over Paul Pierce–that sort of made it feel he was conquering old demons.
Even the look on LeBron’s face is one of sheer determination.
Of course, things would not end well for LeBron and the Heat in 2011. But getting past the Celtics was still big for his legacy, and it would also set the stage for his epic performance against Boston the following year.
6. Playing the role of matador
After James and the Heat defeated the Celtics, they took on a young and hungry Chicago Bulls squad.
The Bulls proved to be tough opponents. They took Game 1 in the Windy City and–though the Heat would win the next three games–played Miami extremely tough.
Chicago also led Game 5 for nearly the entire game. That is, until LeBron and Dwyane Wade took over the game.
James and Wade helped the Heat erase a 12-point deficit in the last three minutes of the game, with LeBron making the go-ahead dagger to send the Bulls packing.
Sure, the Heat had already established control of the series in each of the last two moments.
That said, there was a certain arrogance in LeBron’s refusal to let the team lose even an inch. These are the moments that mean the most in terms of his legacy.
5. Beating the Pacers again
As previously mentioned, the Indiana Pacers pushed the 2018 Cavaliers to seven games.
The Cavs were engaged in a dogfight with the Pacers in Game 5, and Indiana had the ball with a chance to take the lead in the closing seconds. However, James blocked Victor Oladipo at the rim, and the Cavs called timeout with three seconds remaining.
LeBron capped off the sequence in epic fashion, taking the inbounds and dribbling to his left before pulling up for a game-winning three.
The shot was immensely consequential, as Indiana ended up blowing out the Cavs in Game 6 before Cleveland wrapped things up in Game 7.
There is a very real chance James and the Cavs would not have made it out of the first round had they lost this game. Instead, this shot gave Cleveland a crucial advantage as it would make a run to a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance.
4. A “Magic” trick
The 2008-09 season looked like LeBron’s best shot at a title during his first stint with the Cavs.
James captured his first MVP Award as the Cavs won 66 games. This was the year LeBron was really challenging Kobe Bryant for the title of “best player in the league.”
Unfortunately, a Kobe-LeBron Finals matchup was thwarted by the Orlando Magic, who defeated the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But James still delivered one of the most memorable buzzer-beaters in Game 2, helping the Cavs avoid an 0-2 deficit.
The Cavs might have lost the series, but this shot is still one of the most famous in playoff history.
3. Matador pt. 2
Whereas James and the Miami Heat had control over their series against the Bulls in 2011, LeBron and the Cavs found themselves in a 1-2 hole following a miraculous buzzer-beater by Bulls guard Derrick Rose in Game 3.
The Cavs very nearly lost their grip on the entire series in Game 4. They trailed by seven entering the fourth quarter, and it looked like the Bulls would establish a stranglehold on the contest.
But Cleveland opened the quarter on a 10-2 run to take the lead and eventually went up seven with under four minutes to play. Undeterred, the Bulls clawed back to tie the game, in large part because James committed an offensive foul that led to a game-tying layup by Rose.
However, the Cavs had the last shot, and James nailed a buzzer-beater right in front of Chicago’s bench.
The shot changed the entire series, as the Cavs went on to win each of the next two games to clinch the series.
2. Giving the Heat life
Ray Allen’s game-tying shot in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals is perhaps the greatest shot in league history.
But people often forget that moment would not have been possible were it not for James.
The Heat trailed the San Antonio Spurs by five with under 30 seconds remaining when James fired up a three out of an inbounds play. The first attempt clanked off the rim, but Mike Miller grabbed the offensive rebound and fed LeBron for a second try.
King James did not hesitate.
Allen’s shot is more memorable.
But this shot from James–just to keep Miami in the game and the series–deserves its spot.
1. Erasing the “not clutch” narrative
The Heat had won Game 6 in stunning fashion. But they still needed to finish the job in Game 7.
James would help Miami reach the summit, scoring 37 points and hitting a massively clutch jumper to put the Heat up four with under 30 seconds to go.
James was not willing to wait out the moment. He seized it.
This shot is hardly the most dramatic of LeBron’s career. But it eviscerated the idea he was “not clutch” and–in many ways–propelled him into another category in terms of the all-time greats.