No, LeBron James' Game 3 Was Not His Worst Playoff Performance
Previous to Sunday night, that's been the story on two separate occasions for James in postseasons past. It feels like forever ago (2008) that LeBron put up a pair of stinkers against Boston and their Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, so for the King, last night's improbable last-second win by a bunch of dudes wearing green and white might have him feeling deja vu all over again.
LeBron did not play well, and he isn't denying it. And he's not denying it, because he's not sweating it. After all, he's been here before.
It's Been Worse
Throughout the Cavs' 10-game 2017 playoff run, James has been otherworldly, with averages of 34.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 3.8 turnovers in 41.5 minutes per game. Sunday night, LeBron was a statistical shell of that same player: In 45 minutes, he had just 11 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists to a team-worst 6 turnovers, as the Cavs fell 111-108 to a shorthanded Celtics squad.
According to Basketball Reference, that line translates to a Game Score of 3.6, roughly 6.4 below the mark of an average performance (10). But -- surprise, surprise -- the King has dropped even stinkier stinkers in his playoff career.
His last truly awful playoff performance before last night came during Game 5 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, when the Indiana Pacers forced James into early foul trouble, and he finished the contest with 7 points on 2-of-10 shooting from the floor and a Game Score of -0.1 -- a lousy night by any metric, certainly, but that's not Bron-Bron's lowest postseason point.
The lowest of the low would be in Game 1 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Against the stout defense of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen, James tied a playoff career-high with 10 turnovers, and had the worst shooting night (11.1%) of his postseason career, slinking to the locker room with a 12-point, 9-rebound, 9-assist outing. (If you're keeping score -- and we are -- LeBron was one board and one dime away from a quadruple-double. Yikes.)
In those two games, LeBron's teams lost by 3 and 4 points, respectively, and have lost 2 of the above 11 games overall, with a margin of defeat of -45.
When LeBron's jumper is on, we know he's virtually un-guardable. When it's not, however, he becomes (relatively) human, and that's been precisely the case in these 11 games, as James has shot just 26.9% from the field and 13.2% from three for an effective field goal percentage of 28.6%.
So here's a newsflash: If LeBron James is on your team and he doesn't play well against a quality opponent during the playoffs, your team will probably lose. But he is LeBron, and, newsflash number two, you can only hold him down for so long.
On the Rebound
How hard did LeBron crush it the games after the aforementioned duds?
James had no opportunity to redeem his stinkeroo in the '07 Finals, a series his Cavaliers lost to the San Antonio Spurs in four straight. So that leaves us with just nine games to tell us whether we should expect a rebound from him in Tuesday's Game 4 against the Celtics.
More times than not, the next game has gone in LeBron's favor in more ways than one -- his teams are 5-4 in those contests, with two of the five wins coming by 24 or more points. And in the nine follow-up games, James has had a Game Score of 19 or better in six of them. Since losing to the Mavs in the 2011 Finals, James is 3-0 in bounce-back games, with averages of 26.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 37 minutes. That gives us a 21.3 Game Score, which has yielded, on average, a 11.7-point margin of victory.
On the other hand, his worst attempt at a bounce back was Game 2 against Boston in 2008, when he shot 6 of 24 from the field with 7 turnovers in 42 minutes. That Celtics group just had his mojo.
But these Celtics aren't those Celtics. And these Celtics are smart enough to expect a stellar effort -- and, more likely than not, stellar results -- from the now and future King.