“Pretty much feels like everything you throw up is going in,” James said when asked about his performance. “And so, every shot that I took it feels like it was going in, even when they were highly contested. I just had my eyes on the target, trying to stay as disciplined. As I’ve grown as a basketball player, staying disciplined with my shot, disciplined with my balance, and every shot that I took it feels like it was going in.”
At 32 years, 308 days, James became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 29,000 career points, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, finishing the night with 29,049. It was James’ 11th career 50-point game, tying him with Allen Iverson for the sixth-most in NBA history, and his first since he had a career-high 61 against the then-Charlotte Bobcats on March 3, 2014.
“When he plays like that — I mean, every night he’s dominant — but that right there shows what everyone talks about,” said Cavalier guard Dwyane Wade, who also was a teammate with James on the Miami Heat when he scored 61. “He’s the best player in the game — he’s the best player in the world. When he’s in that kind of rhythm, that kind of mindset, no one on the court can stop him. He knew how important this game was for us, after losing four in a row. He put us on his back, and everyone chipped in.”
James played 43 out of a possible 48 minutes, including the entire second half, to keep Washington at bay.
“It came to the end of the third quarter and he came to the bench and [I] said, ‘Do you need a quick one?’ And he said, ‘No,'” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “We knew he was feeling good. He carried us.”
James, who is in his 15th season, joins Kobe Bryant as the only players to score 50 points in a game in their 15th season or later over the past 50 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information data; Bryant scored 60 in his final career game in his 20th season.
It also was James’ 800th straight game scoring in double digits, joining Michael Jordan (866) as the only other player to reach that mark.
James shot 23-for-34 from the field on Friday, 9-for-9 from the free throw line and added a game-high 11 rebounds as well as seven assists. The 23 made field goals were a career high. All those made buckets moved him past Kevin Garnett (10,505 made field goals) and John Havlicek (10,513) for 11th on the all-time list (10,528).
Cavs director of team operations Mark “Cobra” Cashman set aside James’ uniform and sneakers after the game, marking the date on them. Jerry Walter, the Wizards’ manager of basketball facilities, came into the visitor’s locker room to also present Cashman with the game ball to keep for James.
Wizards coach Scott Brooks was amazed by how James picked apart his team.
“We obviously witnessed one of the best players to ever play the game,” Brooks said. “He still has it, if you guys didn’t know that. We knew that. Going into the game, very rarely you see a guy hit like 10 straight heat-check shots. It seems like every shot he was contested, and a lot of them were midrange. I think out of 34 shots he had four 3s. We tried everything.
“You got to pat him on the behind. Great game, amazing player. You got to move on to the next game.”
The rest of the Cavs were equally impressed.
“Man,” said JR Smith. “I mean, I knew he had it going, but I looked up and he had 57, I was like, ‘Damn!’ I had to ask Jae [Crowder] and be like, ‘He has 57?’ He was like, ‘What?’ I was like, ‘He has FIFTY-SEVEN.’ It was crazy.”
“I’m happy to be on this side of the ball,” Rose said. “A hell of a performance. If anything, just learn from it and be mindful of it and just try to take it all in. It was a hell of a performance, man, and you see why he’s at where he’s at.”
James set a building scoring record for Capital One Arena with the 57 points. It’s the fourth such record he has set around the league, adding to his marks at Air Canada Centre (56), AmericanAirlines Arena (61) and Vivint Smart Home Arena (51 — tied with Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Karl Malone).
“Just don’t get bored with the process,” James said. “I work on my game every day, and the shots that I was taking, pretty much all of them I work on. Even the one-legged fadeaway 3, on the opposite of their baseline, I work on that too. Just barely missed that one, so, me being efficient is something I always kind of harped on, and for me to — there’s not too many times I take over 30 shots. But if I do, I want to be very efficient with them, and I was able to do that tonight.”