Back on Sunday night, four-time MVP and three-time NBA champion LeBron James had one of the worst games of his brilliant career where he had just 11 points on 4 for 13 shooting, six turnovers and no points in the fourth quarter as the Cavs lost Game 3 111-108 and saw their series lead cut to 2-1. What has made him great throughout his career, that will land him in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot is his ability to bounce back and he did so with 34 points, 15 of those coming in the fourth quarter as the Cavs won Game 4 112-99 on Tuesday night to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. In the close out Game 5 at TD Garden in Boston, MA, “King James” not only led the Cavs back to The Finals for a third year in a row, he made some major NBA Playoff history where he surpassed who many consider the best to ever play on the hardwood.
At the 2:42 mark of the third quarter, James hit a three-pointer that increased the Cavs’ lead to 103-71, but it moved him pass Hall of Famer and six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan to become the all-time leading scorer in playoff history.
James finished the night with 35 points, on 13 for 18 from the field, including 4 for 8 from long range with eight boards, eight assists and three steals in 35 minutes as the Cavs won at the Celtics 135-102, winning the series 4-1 and advancing to The Finals to meet up with the back-to-back-to-back Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors, which will begin on Thursday, June 1.
That triple put James at 5,989 playoff points he has scored in his postseason career. To bring this accomplishment into full context, Jordan scored 5,987 points in his playoff career in 179 games, and shot 4,497 shots to reach that point. James has played 212 games in his playoff career and scored 5,995 points on 4,379 shots. To further illustrate what we all have had a chance to witness this postseason, James has scored 30-plus points in 10 of the 12 Cavs 12 playoff games. That is amazing for a guy that was not known for his scoring when he entered the NBA out of high school 13 years ago.
In fact, there have been many in NBA circles that have compared the three-time Finals MVP’s game to that of Hall of Famer and five-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Earvin “Magic” Johnson because James feels he is at his best when he is getting the rest of his teammates involved over the course of an NBA game as well as scoring himself. It was seeing what Jordan did in his career that gave James the vision of what it means to be great, while also saying he will never be like him.
“I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike. Just seeing what he was able to accomplish” James said during the postgame presser on Thursday night. “When you’re growing up and you seeing Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a God. So, I’d never believed I could be Mike.”
While he may never be Michael Jordan, no matter how many more rings he wins, James with what he has done in his career to this point has been nothing short of sensational and of all the records he has set in his career, this is the one that means the most to him, which he said prior to Thursday night’s contest.
“It’s just a personal goal of mine,” James said. “It has nothing to do with passing him in rings; passing him in points; passing him in MVPs. It’s my personal goal to keep me motivated. That’s all.”
With each milestone that James has achieved, he has always approached it with a humble outlook, a respect for being able to have his name in the same sentence as some of the greats to ever lace up their kicks on the professional hardwood, and having the love and respect from his teammates that get the opportunity to witness those milestones.
There was a moment at the end of the third quarter where the cameras caught All-Star starting lead guard of the Cavs Kyrie Irving, who followed up his playoff career-high 42-point performance with 24 points on Thursday night barking and in the ear of James, who had a towel over his head.
Irving, who averaged 25.8 points in the five games against the C’s, said to NBA on TNT pre-game and postgame host of “Inside the NBA,” presented by KIA Ernie Johnson that he was telling James to not take the moment of surpassing Jordan.
“That’s an iconic moment. What he did for the culture and honestly for the game of basketball is nothing short of legendary, and I want him to enjoy it,” he said. “He always shows great humility for all his accomplishments, but this is one he really wanted and as a team it was out job to bring him up to that, and I’m glad he’s accomplished it and as well getting back to The Finals.”
What made this night even more iconic is that James will be making his seventh straight trip to The Finals, which makes him the first non-Celtic to achieve that and he is just the second player in NBA history to do that, which ties him with Hall of Famer and lead guard on many of the Celtics title teams back in the day Bob Cousy.
For all that James has individually accomplished in his career, he has always been about the success of the team and when the team plays well, that gives him more satisfaction that any individual check mark on his career resume and this game was the best example of that.
James on this night became just the second player in postseason history at the Celtics to have 35-plus points, with eight boards and eight assists was Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson in Game 5 of the 1963 Eastern Divisional Finals with 36 points 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the Cincinnati Royals in a 125-120 loss on Apr. 6th of that year. His team scored 135 points, setting a new franchise history, which was five points better than the 130 they scored in their 44-point victory at the Celtics in Game 2 back on May 17, which was also their 13th straight win in the postseason, dating back to last year’s Finals. Their 41-point lead (72-31) at intermission of that contest set a new NBA playoff-record, and they led by as many as 50 in the contest. In the opening half of Game 5, the Cavaliers set a new franchise record scoring 75 points, as they led 75-57 after the first 24 minutes, which began with a franchise record 43 points in the first quarter. It was the third time in the series that the defending champions scored 40 points or more in a quarter.
The Cavs with their close out win in Boston remained perfect on the road with their seventh consecutive victory and improved them to an NBA best 21-7 away from Quicken Loans Arena dating back to 2015. Against their own conference in the postseason, the Cavs improved their record to 36-5.
After the Game 3 loss on Sunday where he played poorly, there was a lot of question was what happened to LeBron James, who had more turnovers with six than field goals made with four. The next two games showed why he is the best in the game now and one of the best of all-time and he surpassed who many fans and analysts consider to be the best to ever play in the NBA. Along the way, he has taken it all in with a humble approach; the focus being on team success and winning championships, while taking each moment in and having as Irving said to Johnson during the Eastern Conference Trophy presentation about the one word to describe the Cleveland Cavaliers the last three seasons gratitude.
“I think we’re eternally grateful all the time we’re around each other,” he said. “We spend almost every day with each other. We sacrifice everything and it’s always worth it. We understand that the journey doesn’t stop here and were not satisfied and we go back to the promise land, which is The Finals.”
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 5/25/17 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump” on ESPN presented by La Quinta Inns & Suites with Rachel Nichols, Scottie Pippen, Paul Pierce and Tracy McGrady; 5/25/17 8:30 p.m. Game 5 of Eastern Conference Finals on TNT presented by Samsung Gear S3 with Marv Albert, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Kristen Ledlow and David Aldridge; 5/25/17 11 p.m. edition of “Inside the NBA” on TNT, presented by KIA with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal; 5/26/17 7 a.m. edition of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” with Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Amy Robach, Michael Strahan and Ginger Zee; www.nba.com/playoffs/2017/eastseries7; www.espn.com/nba/player/gamelog/_/id/1966/lebron-james and http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Cleveland_Cavaliers_seasons.