Rewind to one of the greatest NBA finals series of all time, when the Cleveland Cavaliers came from three games to one down to beat the 73-win Golden State Warriors in seven.
LeBron James’ efforts in the final three matchups of the 2016 series all contribute to his greatest individual achievement, and arguably the greatest of any player ever. Forcing myself to reduce three down to one, let’s focus on the performance that started it all, the one that sparked a monumental upset.
The 2016 NBA Finals vs Golden State Warriors, Game Five
The numbers: 41 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks, 16 of 30 field goals in 43 minutes of play
A year after falling short in the NBA finals to the very same team, the Cavaliers were back with their ‘Big 3’ of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, all healthy, as well as an upgraded array of weapons around them and vengeance at the front of their minds.
Throughout the 2016 playoffs the Cavaliers made light work of the Eastern Conference, sweeping the Pistons and Hawks before getting by the Raptors in six. The Warriors on the other hand, who finished the regular season with an NBA record 73 wins, had to endure a few more bumps and bruises out West, beating the Rockets and Trail Blazers in five, before coming from 3-1 down to beat the Thunder 4-3 in the Conference finals – a monumental series in itself.
The Warriors took control of the ‘rematch’ finals after four games, with comfortable wins in games one and two at home. The Cavaliers returned favour in game three for a monstrous 30-point victory that seemingly restored balance, but Golden State secured a vital comeback win in game four on the enemy’s court, and headed back home to Oakland with a 3-1 lead and an opportunity to close out the series. On top of that, they had the opportunity to dethrone the 1996 Chicago Bulls as the greatest single season team of all time.
While the pressure was no doubt mounting on his shoulders to keep alive a series that seemed lost against an all-time heavyweight, James’ grandeur all-round scoring ability took to another level, leading to one of his most efficient offensive nights in his career.
After the Warriors raced out to an early lead, game five became a lot tighter as LeBron James found his groove. The hosts appeared content giving James space and forcing him to take outside shots, in an attempt to stop him taking the ball inside. The scheme was no doubt used given the Dubs were reduced to one athletic defender capable of containing James one-on-one, in Andre Iguodala (Draymond Green being the other, who was infamously suspended for this game).
However the King went about his typical business in a terrific first half performance. He buried a handful of deep shots which highlighted a 53 per cent shooting night overall, including 50 per cent from three. When the defence tightened up, James utilised his ever-present strength and speed to bulldoze his way into the paint and grab points at a premium.
Facing elimination, Kyrie & LeBron had epic performances in game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
Combined for 82 points (41 each) pic.twitter.com/VZk7TAIU9I
— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) March 23, 2020
Some key plays in the first half saw him take advantage of the pick and roll and blow by Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Marreese Speights for lay-ins and an and-one dunk.
James had 25 of his side’s 61 points, helping tie the game up at the mid-way point. Kyrie Irving pitched in his fair share, adding 18 points in the half, 11 of which came in the second quarter, with a range of gorgeous dribble moves and pull-up jumpers.
The Cavaliers started the second half the way they ended the first by finding and converting high percentage looks. James’ shooting efforts continued to appear effortless, from taking the ball inside and drawing a foul on Brandon Rush, to pulling up for a deep three to hand his side a buffer early in the third. Add to that five assists he accumulated, aiding the likes of Irving and Richard Jefferson.
The Warriors’ offence on the other hand sputtered mightily in comparison to their production in the first two quarters, shooting just 31 per cent overall for the half, with Curry and Thompson the only two players with sizeable contributions.
It never picked up for the hosts, and Irving was handed the batten to ice the game in the fourth quarter while James sat for a good chunk of minutes. The pair finished with 41, as the Cavs sealed a 112-97 road win.
In the past we have seen LeBron James pull off big performances with the world watching, but never to such an extent when the odds seemed so heavily against him. The stage was the biggest laid out for the kid from Akron, up against the greatest single season team (to that point) and demanding him to rise in order to keep the finals alive.
James’ calling to deliver Cleveland their first chip came from somewhere. Game five proved to be the springboard for the franchise’s maiden title, a game the King took control of as the team’s magnetic leader and beating heart.
Game six ended up being another sizeable victory for Cleveland, beating the Warriors 115-101 thanks to another 41 point game from James. Game seven back in Oakland proved to be a lot tighter, but the Cavs famously emerged victorious thanks to a late dagger three from Kyrie Irving, leading to a 93-89 win. James finished the decider with a 29-point triple double, and received his third ring and finals MVP award.
Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.