The Los Angeles Lakers are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. They eliminated the young and rising Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, 4-1.
It’s been a good run, and unlike the two teams before them, they avoided blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Nuggets, who have become the ‘Comeback Kids.’ Game 5 saw the Lake Show take control in the first half and finish things off with a series-clinching, 117-107 win. LeBron tallied 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists in the victory.
While a great effort from the supporting cast and Anthony Davis were both in display, it was team leader and Davis’s co-star, LeBron James, that took center stage, particularly in the fourth quarter. James went hot in the period as he scored 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
It’s an added tale to James’s already long list of legendary Conference Finals performances, so how does it compare overall?
Keep in mind that he’s had 11 trips to the Conference Finals: 2007 and 2009 during his first run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 with the Miami Heat, and 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 during his second stint with the Cavs.
Game 5, 2011 Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Chicago Bulls
This was during the Heatles’ first playoff run. As the biggest and most hated villains in the league, it was a season of getting relentlessly booed off the building, particularly James. Chicago might have one of the loudest and meanest.
Nevertheless, LeBron and the Heat went into Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead, one win away from advancing. The Bulls, however, having MVP Derrick Rose and arguably the best defense in the league, fought hard and built a 77-64 cushion with only 3:53 remaining in the fourth quarter.
That’s when James and Dwayne Wade proceeded to put on a show. James, for his part, had nine points in the remainder of the game – one free throw, two three-pointers, and one go-ahead jumper with under 30 seconds left.
James finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, and three steals in the 83-80 win. It brought the Heatles to its first of four-straight finals appearances.
Game 6, 2018 Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Boston Celtics
The 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers were marred with a ton of chemistry issues all season long but somehow managed to advance into the East Finals. They met the Boston Celtics, who, despite being depleted, were still one of the most talented teams in the league.
The Cavs entered Game 6 down 3-2 after also climbing back from a 0-2 series deficit, and James just wouldn’t be denied. He logged 46 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, and two dagger three-pointers in a 109-99 win to stave off the elimination.
Game 7, 2018 Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Boston Celtics
That was just Part I of LeBron’s comeback masterpiece in the series. In Game 7, while at Boston’s unforgiving crowd, The King gave Part II and once again proved his dominance in the East.
The game was slower than usual, and was thus, low-scoring, which was not a problem for James. He had 21 of his 35 points in the second half to carry the Cavs into another conference title and finals berth – a great culmination from the bumpy regular season and up-and-down East playoffs.
‘Bron went for 35 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists in the 87-79 win.
Game 5, 2007 Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Detroit Pistons
The mid 2000s Pistons were supposed to be the new Bad Boys, and LeBron James was supposed to be their “Michael Jordan,” a.k.a the league and media darling that they’ll punish for a couple of seasons. It looked that way for a while as Detroit sent James and the Cavs home in the previous season, and were once again favoured in ‘07. Few believed that James was ready to get over the hump.
The Cavs were somehow able to go into a 2-2 tie heading into the all-important Game 5, and while it felt like the Pistons were poised to take the key lead in the series, LeBron suddenly came of age and lifted Cleveland into a 109-107, double-overtime victory.
James scored a combined 29 points in the fourth quarter and two overtimes, including the team’s last 25. He totalled 48 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists on 18-for-33 shooting across 50 minutes of play.
Game 6, 2012 Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Boston Celtics
This was LeBron being put to the ultimate test. Everything was on the line: his reputation, his basketball legacy, the Heat’s season, the Heat’s experiment with three stars, and head coach Erik Spoelstra’s job – there’s more too.
Keep in mind that they are also coming off a finals loss in the season prior, where LeBron gave what could possibly be the worst finals performance from a superstar. Another season of failing to win a title after all the talk he did will deepen the embarrassment to unbelievable levels.
James and the Heat went into Game 6 down 3-2, facing elimination, the Celtics’ Big Three, and Boston’s raucous crowd. The Cs’ confidence was at a high too as they just won in Miami off a dagger three from Paul Pierce, one of James’s fiercest rivals.
With everyone awaiting another collapse, James simply went bananas on the Celtics defense. He was attacking the basket, hitting every jumper, and making the right reads, all without cracking a smile.
LeBron finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists in the 98-79 win.
Celtics super fan Bill Simmons, who was in attendance, described it best in one of his most memorable columns ever:
“You can’t imagine what this was like to witness in person. I know Michael Jordan had similarly astonishing games, and others, too, but not with stakes like that. This wasn’t just an elimination game. This was LeBron James’s entire career being put on trial … and it only took an hour for him to tell the jury, ‘Go home. I’m one of the best players ever. Stop picking me apart. Stop talking about the things I can’t do. Stop holding me to standards that have never been applied to any other NBA player. Stop blaming me for an admittedly dumb decision I never should have made. Stop saying I’m weak. Stop saying that I don’t want to win. Stop. Just … stop.’