LeBron James became the 18th player in the last 51 years to record a 60-point game on Monday night, scoring a career-high and Miami Heat franchise-best 61 points in a 124-107 win over the Charlotte Bobcats at AmericanAirlines Arena.
"The man above has given me some unbelievable abilities to play the game of basketball," the four-time NBA MVP and two-time-defending NBA Finals MVP said in a postgame interview with Sun Sports' Jason Jackson. "I just try to take advantage of it every night. I got the trust of my teammates and my coaching staff to go in there and let it go."
[Yahoo Team Fan Shop: Buy LeBron James T-shirts, jerseys and more]
James certainly did let it go on Monday, making 22 of 33 field-goal attempts, including 8 of 10 from 3-point range — he made his first eight, going without a miss from downtown until the 5:17 mark of the fourth quarter — and 9 for 12 from the free-throw line to go with seven rebounds and five assists in 41-plus minutes of floor time. He's just the fifth player since 1985 to put up a 60-5-5, joining David Robinson, Michael Jordan, Tracy McGrady and Gilbert Arenas.
James surpassed both his own career high of 56, set (somewhat remarkably) in a Cleveland Cavaliers loss to the Toronto Raptors back in 2005, and the Heat's franchise record of 56, set by Glen Rice in an April 1995 win over the Orlando Magic, with a sweet spin around Chris Douglas-Roberts and a finish through three Charlotte defenders at the 5:46 mark of the fourth
Despite having set a new high watermark for both himself and the Heat franchise on the spinning layup, James wasn't finished, staying on the court in an evident effort to go for 60. He missed two 3-pointers in the next minute before capping a right-to-left drive from the top of the key through the paint with a leaning bank shot to give him 59 with 2:23 remaining, and earning a trip to the charity stripe with a drive a half-minute later; he'd convert his two freebies to get to 61, and after a missed Anthony Tolliver 3 that Ray Allen rebounded, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called a timeout to pull his starters and allow the AmericanAirlines Arena faithful an opportunity to give James the standing ovation he so richly deserved.
"There was an efficiency to what he was doing," Spoelstra said after the game, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. "The rim looked like an ocean for him."
That was especially true during the third quarter. After scoring 24 points on 8 for 13 shooting in the first half, James came out of intermission on fire, making his first three shots and scoring eight points in two minutes to give him 32 with 22 minutes of gametime left. The onslaught continued throughout the frame, with James scoring 25 points in the third quarter alone — a Heat franchise record for points scored in any quarter, according to the Sun Sports broadcast — on 9 for 11 shooting, including a perfect 5 for 5 mark from beyond the arc, to give him 49 points on 24 shots through three quarters and stake Miami to a 19-point lead headed into the fourth quarter.
James joked after the game that he was afforded the opportunity to go for a career-high because the Heat couldn't get any stops in the fourth quarter, allowing Steve Clifford's scrappy Bobcats team to stay within striking distance behind a brilliant performance from center Al Jefferson, who finished with 38 points on 18 for 24 shooting and 19 rebounds in 38 minutes of play. (It's tough to wind up an afterthought after a night like that. We feel for you, Big Al.)
The Heat did eventually get matters under control, though, giving James the chance to finish off his historic performance and push the Heat to their eighth straight win, their 11th in 12 games, and their 16th in their last 19 outings. Chris Bosh added 15 points and seven rebounds for Miami, who now sit at 43-14, two games south of the East-leading Indiana Pacers.
James' 61 was the second-highest-scoring performance of the 2013-14 NBA season, trailing only the 62 points that the New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony hung on these same Bobcats back on Jan. 24. (It is an odd thing that a team as defensively sound as Clifford's Bobcats, who entered Monday's action ranked sixth in the league in points allowed per possession, would get torched for the year's two biggest scoring explosions.) It was also the 10th 50-point game of his illustrious career, and only his second as a member of the Heat, with his first eight outings of 50 or more points coming while a member of the Cavaliers. Not only was it James' first 50-point game in more than three years, but it was also the first time he's ever scored 50-plus in front of a home crowd — the previous nine all came on the road.
Thanks to Monday's explosion, James is now averaging a cool 37.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and five assists in five post-All-Star break outings, shooting a crisp 67.9 percent from the field and 51.9 percent from 3-point land. Numbers like those are almost enough to make you want to get your nose busted and throw on a mask, but they might not be enough to vault him past the likes of Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant in the still-early-going MVP race.