National Basketball Association
LeBron and Kyrie will need to keep making history to hold off Warriors
National Basketball Association

LeBron and Kyrie will need to keep making history to hold off Warriors

Published Jun. 14, 2016 2:30 a.m. ET

OAKLAND, Calif. —€” Make no mistake, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving's performances in Game 5 of the NBA Finals Monday night were for the ages.

Both players scored 41 points with near-impeccable games —€” the kind of performances on which legacies are built.

The combined 82 points were the most by teammates in an NBA Finals elimination game. It was the first time in NBA Finals history that two teammates scored more than 40 points.

And now they have to do it again. Twice.


The bar is set awfully high.

LeBron's performance —€” which, in a career full of astounding feats, should make his top-five —€” was a throwback to the not-so-distant past, when The King was lethal from every spot on the court.

The Warriors talked trash in the build-up, the Oracle Arena crowd was relentless with its vitriol, and James shut them all up with an inside-out offensive game reminiscent of his time in Miami and a full-court defensive lockdown. The stat line —€” 41 points, 16 rebounds, and 7 rebounds on 53 percent shooting with three steals and only two turnovers, despite a 35 percent usage rate —€” is nearly unfathomable.

Anyone who holds the unfounded belief that James is not a clutch performer —€” that he needs to do more to help his team —€” should watch his Game 5 performance again. It doesn't get any better than that.

And Irving was just as good. Who shoots 70 percent in a game? Who does it with such flair and brilliance? With such swagger? Irving, as has always been his potential, was an unstoppable offensive force Wednesday night. The Warriors put two players on him, and he still scored. As James' jumper waned in the final part of the game, it was Irving who closed the door on the Warriors.

Irving was the first player to score 40-plus points while shooting 70 percent or better in a Finals game since Wilt Chamberlain. Let that sink in for a moment. 

"It's probably one of the greatest performances I've ever seen live," LeBron said.

To see two teammates post performances like that in the same game, with a season and championship on the line, no less, is to witness greatness.

Now the Cavs need Kyrie and LeBron to do it again in Game 6, and then again Sunday in Game 7. It was spectacular, but was it sustainable? 

"To repeat a performance like this would definitely be tough," Irving wisely admitted.

But Irving and LeBron might not have any choice but to do it again. The Cavs' dynamic duo —€” The Big Three is dead —€” received no help in this game on the offensive end, as Irving and LeBron scored 75 percent of the Cavs' points. It was an alternating series of spectacular isolation sets carried out by elite operators.

The Cavs set an NBA record for most unassisted field goals in an NBA Finals game with 29 Monday, but no one can fault them. You have to take what works when it's working, and boy were Irving and LeBron working Monday night.

"At this point, it's whatever it takes," LeBron said.

But it took every bit of greatness Irving and LeBron had to win Game 5. The 15-point margin of victory might be solid, but it's hardly enough of a cushion for the Cavs to feel comfortable about inevitable regression.

Draymond Green will return for Game 6, and that will unquestionably strengthen Golden State's defense and increase its ball movement on the offensive end, where the Warriors looked a bit stale Monday.

Yet Cleveland still allowed 43 uncontested shots to the Warriors in Game 5 —€” 48 percent of the team's overall field goal attempts —€” of which Golden State hit only 16 (37 percent.)

The Warriors made only 4 of 19 wide open (no defenders within six feet) 3-pointers in Game 5. Stephen Curry hit only two of his nine uncontested shots (22 percent) Monday. The Warriors didn't score in the final 6:39 of the game and only scored 36 points in the second half.

The Cavs can't bank on all of that to happen again in back-to-back games either.

So far in this series, Cleveland has needed out-of-this-world shooting performances from James and Irving, and equally unimpressive shooting nights from the Warriors to win games. When the numbers correct to the mean —€” as they did in Game 4 after Cleveland's Game 3 landslide win -- Golden State holds a significant advantage.

The Cavs will likely need another round of astounding, spellbinding performances from their star players (and probably a third guy in wine and blue) in Game 6 to force a Game 7. They'll have to do that with Green on the court, and on star legs that have played an average of more than 40 minutes in the last three games.

We learned Monday that it's not out of the question for Irving and LeBron. But which seems more likely: the Dynamic Duo doing it three times in a row, or the greatest shooting team of all-time hitting their open shots?  


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