Kyrie Irving and LeBron James Kept the Cavaliers Alive in Game 5 with Historic Performances
If you watched Game 5 of the NBA Finals last night, you’re probably still waiting for Kyrie Irving to miss a shot. Believe it or not, he did miss a few.
There is much to unpack from Irving's and LeBron James' incredible performances in Game 5. This was an NBA Finals elimination game, so to say the Cleveland Cavaliers’ best two players answered the bell to keep their team alive would be a massive understatement.
James and Irving became the first pair of teammates to score 40-plus points in an NBA Finals Game and also managed to score or assist on 97 of the Cavaliers’ 112 total points. That’s two players accounting for 86% of the team’s points. According to Elias, the duo scored the third-highest percentage of their team’s points in Finals history. Take a second to let that sink in because we're just getting started.
Draymond Green was suspended for this game, and his defense was sorely missed, but it shouldn’t detract from how amazing James and Irving were. It may just be wishful thinking in the hopes of seeing a Game 7, but this is the kind of performance can potentially turn a series around.
Kyrie Irving Shot the Lights Out
Irving’s offensive performance in Game 5 was truly something to behold, and this came in a matchup with arguably the greatest shooter of all time in Stephen Curry. Everything Irving put up seemed to go in, and there are plenty of statistics that make him look even better.
On Monday night, Uncle Drew managed to score 41 points on an unfathomable 17-for-24 shooting, including 5-for-7 from three-point range. That’s good for an eFG% of 81.3.
Since 1984, only one other player has managed to top this feat, and that was Michael Jordan in 1992 against the Portland Trail Blazers. In that game, he dropped an astounding 46 points on 23 shots. However, in that same game, Jordan shot 16-for-19 from the free throw line. This is what makes Kyrie’s performance even more impressive; he shot and made only two free throws in Game 5. According to Basketball-Reference.com, in a single game dating back to the 1983-'84 season, only two other players have scored at least 40 points on 24 or fewer shots with two or fewer free throw attempts: Chuck Person in 1987 and Deron Williams in 2013.
For added visual effect, take a moment to marvel at all of the green in Irving’s shot chart, via NBA.com.
As impressive as that is, there’s even more. This was Irving’s third straight 30-point game, and his shooting stands out even further when you consider that the last player to shoot 70% or better while scoring 40 points in the Finals was Wilt Chamberlain in 1970, when he scored 45 on 74% shooting. You simply don't see performances like this often, but James' numbers are nearly as impressive as Irving's.
LeBron James Had the Best Statistical Finals Game of His Career
LeBron has played in a lot of NBA Finals games -- 38, to be exact -- so it is quite remarkable that he possibly had his best ever performance Monday night.
On Monday, James scored 41 points on 16-for-30 shooting, 4-for-8 from three, and added 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks. Where was this during the Fantasy Championship weeks, LeBron?
All jokes aside, that is how you fill a box score, and James has been doing it since the beginning. To put the numbers in perspective, only Hall-of-Fame centers David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon have compiled statlines as robust as James' from last night, but James is the only one to do it in the playoffs, and he is also not a center.
Although he wasn't on Irving's level, James' shot chart from Game 5 is still quite impressive, especially when you factor in the issues he has faced with his jump-shot dating back to last year’s playoffs. James managed to make eight shots from outside the paint in this game, twice as many as he had made previously in a playoff game this year. The Warriors have given James ample space to launch shots, and this time, he made them pay. If he can shoot nearly this well from the outside again, the Cavs can certainly force a Game 7 and pull off the improbable.
Have We Seen Anything Like This Before?
The answer is no, as James and Irving are the first pair of teammates to score 40-plus points in an NBA Finals game. But there is still plenty of historical context for what occurred in Game 5 last night, especially when you consider that only two other individual players have scored 40-plus points and won an NBA Finals elimination game: Elgin Baylor in 1963 and 1966, and Wilt Chamberlain in 1970. James Worthy did so in a loss in 1989.
Expanding beyond just the Finals, there are only four other times in which two teammates combined for 40-plus points in an NBA playoff game, and none have lost.
|1962||Elgin Baylor and Jerry West||Lakers||Win|
|1988||Eric 'Sleepy' Floyd and Hakeem Olajuwon||Rockets||Win|
|1995||Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon||Rockets||Win|
|2000||Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose||Pacers||Win|
|2016||Kyrie Irving and LeBron James||Cavaliers||Win|
What can be said for certain following Game 5 is that James and Irving did everything humanly possible -- and then some -- to keep their team alive in the Finals. They'll get another chance to make history at home in Game 6, and if they can come close to repeating this historic performance, the series may not be done just yet.