In some ways, it’s only fitting that LeBron James has been a member of the Los Angeles Lakers for the last five seasons, as his biggest rival for the last decade and a half has been the Boston Celtics.
The rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics has been the NBA’s flagship rivalry for about 60 years, but James’ personal rivalry with the Celtics helped define his legacy.
Early in his career, the “Big 4” Celtics of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo were the obstacle James couldn’t get past. Later on, it was the crew led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown that posed a challenge to him.
Some of James’ most memorable playoff games have come against Boston. With the Lakers set to take on the Celtics on Saturday, take a look at his five greatest games against the men in green:
2008 Eastern Conference semifinals – Game 7
In the 2007-08 season, James’ Cleveland Cavaliers were coming off an unexpected trip to the NBA Finals, and everyone was waiting for him to lead them to a string of championships.
But that same season, Boston loaded up big time by trading for Garnett and Allen and adding them to a team that featured the grizzled Pierce, a budding Rondo and a slew of wily veterans.
The two teams met in the second round of the playoffs, and after the home team won each of the first six games, they met in Boston for a riveting Game 7.
James did just about all he could to give the Cavs a shot at winning by scoring 45 points and dishing off six assists, while Pierce nearly matched him with 41 points.
But in the end, Pierce had a little more help, and Cleveland fell, 97-92.
2010 Eastern Conference semifinals – Game 3
The two teams were at it again two years later, and this time, James had a somewhat better team around him, which included veterans Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O’Neal.
Cleveland took Game 1, only to get blown out two days later, and heading to Boston, it faced the possibility of a collapse.
But in Game 3, James poured in 38 points on 14-of-22 shooting, eight rebounds and seven assists as the Cavs had their way with the Celtics, 124-95.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, it would lose the next three games and the series, as James strangely underperformed in each of those contests.
2011 Eastern Conference semifinals – Game 2
When James joined the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010, they became the most hyped (and perhaps the most hated) NBA team ever, and many expected them to immediately win championships in bunches.
But the Celtics, who had won the world title in 2008 and came very close to claiming another one in June 2010, were conceding nothing.
They met James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat in the second round of the playoffs, and although they weren’t quite what they used to be, they were still a formidable foe.
Miami won the first contest, and in Game 2, James made it clear that this time, he would be getting past Boston.
He pumped in 35 points on 14-of-25 shooting as his team took a 2-0 series lead with a 102-91 victory.
The Heat would go on to take the series in five relatively easy games.
2012 Eastern Conference Finals – Game 6
After James and the Heat collapsed in epic fashion during the 2011 NBA Finals, all eyes were on him to see how he would respond.
When Miami fell behind to Boston 3-2 in the conference finals the following season, it looked like James’ squad was going to come up short yet again under pressure.
But he rewrote the script and turned his legacy around in Game 6 in Boston with what still stands as arguably his greatest game ever: 45 points on 19-of-26 shooting, 15 rebounds and five assists.
Miami won that game by 19 points, and it went on to pull away from the Celtics in Game 7 en route to James’ first NBA championship.
2018 Eastern Conference Finals – Game 7
Six years later, James again had to go through the Celtics to get to the NBA Finals.
But this time, he did so as a member of the Cavs against a Boston team that featured a young Tatum and Brown.
Just like in 2012, James’ squad fell behind 3-2 in the series and took Game 6 to force a winner-take-all contest, this time in Boston.
He carried a very heavy load all year for Cleveland, and it continued in Game 7, as he played all 48 minutes and posted 35 points, 15 boards and nine assists as his team pulled away in the end for an 87-79 triumph.
After the game, James was tired — very tired. But he gave it his all against arguably a more talented squad, and that victory remains as one of his more underrated accomplishments.