LeBron James has had memorable performances against all the other teams in the league throughout his 18-year career, including the Cleveland Cavaliers. While James has no doubt played some of his best games while wearing a Cavs uniform, his time with the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers has also allowed fans to see The King play at his best against the team that drafted him and called home for many years.
The latest was a 46-point performance in a 115-108 Lakers victory in Cleveland, which preserved a franchise-best 10-0 start on the road to start the 2020-21 season. It was James’ highest-scoring game to date in 2020-2021 and sent a message that even though he hasn’t won an MVP since the 2012-2013 season, he remains the league’s best player.
That performance was far from the only great one against his hometown team, as he has also had triple-doubles, scoring binges, and highlight plays against Cleveland, with some of them coming as a member of the Heat and others while playing for the Lakers.
Here are some of LeBron James greatest performances against the Cavs.
5. March 29, 2011 – Heat lose to Cavs despite LeBron’s triple-double
While his first visit back to Cleveland after joining the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010 was an emphatic victory (more on that later), the second one didn’t go quite as well for LeBron James. Despite erasing a 23-point deficit, the Heat couldn’t complete the comeback, falling to the Cavs on the road, 102-90, to the delight of the fans at Quicken Loans Arena who were excited to get a win against the star who left them to take his talents to South Beach.
James finished with a triple-double of 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists, making 10-of-21 shots in 43 minutes of play while enduring boos from the crowd throughout the night. A fourth-quarter run by the Cavs put the Heat away and completed their stunning victory over LeBron and Miami. After the game, James took the loss in stride and was all praises for his former team.
The Heat would go on to reach the NBA Finals in James’ first season in Miami, while the Cavs finished with a dismal 19-63 record. But for one night, the Cavs got a measure of revenge against their former star, and not even a triple-double from The King could prevent their defeat.
4. November 21, 2018 – A homecoming fit for a King
This game marked LeBron James’ first game back in Cleveland after joining the Lakers in the summer of 2018, and this return to The Land couldn’t have been more different from his first return with Miami. From the pregame interviews to the reception from the crowd to the video tribute he received during the game, the Cavs’ message to James was one of gratitude after he fulfilled his promise and brought home a title to the city in 2016, ending decades of championship drought.
James himself felt the difference and said he appreciated the fans for giving him a warm reception. The basketball took a backseat to The King’s emotional return to Cleveland, but both teams still played a competitive, thrilling game, with the Cavs keeping in step with a retooled Lakers squad. But when the game was on the line, it was LeBron who made the plays that made the difference, finishing with 32 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists on 11-of-20 shooting in 35 minutes of action.
He took over the game, as he usually does, scoring or assisting on 11 straight points as Los Angeles erased a late eight-point deficit to take a 109-105 win. James’ heroic performance was fitting for the hero’s welcome he received.
3. March 18, 2014 – LeBron’s 43 lifts the Heat in Wade’s absence
At this point, LeBron James was already in his fourth season playing for the Heat and had visited Cleveland multiple times as an opponent. With Dwyane Wade missing the game due to sore knees, Miami would need more from LeBron. But The King was more than willing to put the Heat on his back, and from the get-go it was apparent that he would have a special night.
James scored 25 points in the first quarter alone, making 10-of-11 shots and five 3-pointers on his way to dropping 43 points in the Heat’s 100-96 win over the Cavaliers. LeBron added six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and three blocks in an all-around performance, even scoring as many points as the entire Cavs team by the end of the first quarter.
Cleveland still managed to cut into Miami’s lead, but James and Chris Bosh made key plays both on both ends to put the game away and give the Heat a hard-earned win. In doing so, they made sure that LeBron’s unbelievable first quarter and 43-point performance would not go to waste.
2. January 25, 2021 – A 46-point performance in Year 18
Despite a short offseason after winning his fourth title and Finals MVP, LeBron James still looks as dominant as ever. This time, it was in the fourth quarter when he played his best, scoring 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting, including three triples, to outscore the Cavs by himself in the period, 21-19, to give Los Angeles the win. James finished with 46 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks while making 19-of-26 shots, including seven 3-pointers, in another brilliant performance in a career full of them.
At 36 years old, LeBron became the oldest Laker to score 40-plus points since Kobe Bryant scored 60 in his final NBA game in 2016.
1. December 2, 2010 – 38 points in three quarters in his first homecoming
LeBron James had other memorable performances against them in the years that followed, but his first game back against Cleveland tops the list. After leaving the Cavs for the Heat in 2010, it was expected that he would play in a hostile environment in his return to Cleveland, but few expected it would reach the level it did.
Aside from being peppered with boos and obscene chants, fans also held up signs criticizing James for leaving the team and referencing his playoff failures during his time with the team. But once the game began, The King made sure to silence the sellout crowd right away, helping Miami jump out to a huge lead and never looking back. James finished with 38 points, five rebounds, and eight assists while making 15-of-25 shots in just 30 minutes of play.
The Heat led by 19 at the half and led by as much as 38 in their 118-90 victory, with LeBron scoring 24 in the third quarter before sitting out the entire fourth frame with his team comfortably ahead. He has had better overall numbers against the Cavs since then, but for blocking out the noise from a hostile crowd and putting together a masterful performance in just three quarters, his unforgettable first return also remains his best game against Cleveland.