LeBron James' Game 5 Performance Was Better Than You Realize
For a change, LeBron James hasn't been the story of this year's playoffs.
The Golden State Warriors are in the midst of a historic run. Injuries are affecting just about every team in the title hunt, whether it be in guys getting knocked out for multiple games, or others playing through things they obviously shouldn't be. Blake Griffin is playing out of his damn mind. Derrick Rose is Derrick Rose again (kind of). Hack-a-Shaq sucks. All the major NBA awards have been given out and a bunch of coaches got fired.
Meanwhile, LeBron James -- he who has defined "player under scrutiny" for pretty much the entirety of his career -- has flown a little under the radar. Sure, his name comes up in a lot of places and expectations for him to perform and for his team to advance are as high as they've ever been, but you simply don't see as many stories about him and his game-to-game performances as you used to.
In the last few days, that has changed.
First, he hit a game-winning buzzer beater in Game 4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers' Eastern Conference Semi-Final matchup with the Chicago Bulls, evening the series 2-2. Then, in last night's pivotal Game 5, he treated NBA fans to a vintage LeBron performance. His final stat line from the game was -- in a word -- phenomenal:
First of all, as LeBron's 51st playoff game of 30-plus points, 5-plus rebounds, and 5-plus assists, the performance put him in a tie with the great Michael Jordan for the most such games in NBA postseason history (and among some veritable legends at the top of the list).
Michael Jordan and LeBron James now have the same number of 30-point, 5-rebound, 5-assist games in postseason pic.twitter.com/8LXvdW1uJp— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 13, 2015
As for the performance itself, LeBron became only the third player ever to record 35-plus points, 10-plus rebounds, and 5-plus assists without registering a single turnover.
35+ pts, 10+ rebs, 5+ asts, 0 turnovers in postseason game, since turnovers kept (1977-78): LeBron 2015 Shaq 2000 Bird 1986— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 13, 2015
Add in the three steals and three blocks and you have a stat line that has only happened once in the entire history of the NBA. That's something.
According to Basketball-Reference.com's Game Score (a rough measure of a player's overall productivity for a single game), LeBron's 38.1 from last night was the best game of the 2015 postseason, beating out a host of worthy competitors.
What's more, it's actually tied for the seventh-best Game Score of his career, matching the 38.1 that was attached to his iconic performance against the Detroit Pistons in the 2007 playoffs, in which he scored 48 points and every single one of the Cavaliers last 25. No other game this postseason even cracked LeBron's personal top 40.
And with that, LeBron's playoff averages for this postseason move to 27.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. Despite the general lack of hoopla, that scoring mark is right on par with his last few seasons, while the rebound and steal numbers represent career highs, and the assist and block numbers are at their highest since the last year of his first stint in Cleveland (2009-10).
With Kevin Love out for the playoffs and Kyrie Irving severely hobbled, LeBron has had to do nearly everything for the Cavaliers. Hence his playoff-leading 35.8% usage percentage, the second-highest he's ever registered in the postseason (after 2008-09's 36.4%).
The main drawback with all the responsibility -- and it's admittedly a big one -- is a sizable dip in efficiency. At 43.6% from the field on a career-high 24.4 attempts per contest, 15.9% from deep on 4.9 attempts, and 78.5% from the line on a career-low 7.2 freebies per contest, LeBron is posting a career-worst postseason True Shooting Percentage (weighted twos, threes, and free throws) of 50.3%. At least last night's much more efficient showing (a True Shooting Percentage of 64.9%), highlighted by a playoff-high 12 free throw attempts, should be a step back in the right direction.
And if LeBron is peaking now -- pretty much at exactly the right time -- you have to like the Cavs' chances of coming out of the East and giving a Western Conference team a run for their money, even after all the injuries and suspensions that have stood in their way. As of now, our algorithms have the Cavaliers at a 76.29% chance to finish off the Bulls, 38.04% to take the Eastern Conference Finals (barely trailing Atlanta's 38.69%), and 10.36% to win it all (fourth behind the Warriors at 40.01%, the Clippers at 23.84%, and the Hawks at 13.63%).
We could say that they'll need more than LeBron to get it done, but we know by now what LeBron can do quite a bit on his own. He reminded us of that fact last night with yet another iconic performance. If he manages to build on the momentum of that game and Game 4's buzzer-beating game winner, we could be seeing James in his fifth consecutive Finals.
He might not be the postseason story anymore, but he's certainly moving his way back into the spotlight.