With eight minutes remaining in Game 5 of the 2015 NBA Finals, the Cavaliers were down 79-77 Golden State with the series tied 2-2, Matthew Dellavedova drove down the key over a LeBron James screen, covered by Klay Thompson. He had no shot, and kicked it to Iman Shumpert in the corner for a three-pointer. But Shumpert was quickly covered by Stephen Curry and dribbled along the arc until finally ditching the ball back to James with five seconds on the shot clock. James didn't hesitate, he pulled up from 34 feet over Andre Iguodala for a 80-79 lead with 7:46 remaning in the fourth quarter. It was a great shot, and the closest the Cavs have been to winning the NBA Finals. The Warriors would close out the quarter on a 25-11 run to take Game 5, and celebrate in the Cavaliers visitors locker room two days later.
This year, in a NBA Finals rematch, Game 5 was a bit different. With 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter and the game tied 64-64, Irving drove off a Tristan Thompson screen doubled by Andrew Bogut and Klay Thompson, getting to the key, before throwing back out to James at the top of the three-point arc. Iguodala hung back, daring James to shoot, and with 4 seconds left on the shot clock, he squared up and hit a three, 67-64. The Cavs would lead for the remainder of Game 5, led by dual 41-point performances from James and Irving.
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, they again face a 3-2 hole in Game 6. But a few things are different this time, and not just because of a record-setting performance in the absence of Draymond Green. Irving and James are playing at the best they've ever played together, and perhaps their best ever in a Finals Game. Through this postseason, I've been collecting and visualizing LeBron James and Kyrie Irvings game logs. After Game 5's dual 41-point performances, I thought it was time to check back in and visualize their individual performances within the context of their playoff careers.
Irving, as many have noted, is just the second player (with Wilt Chamberlain) in NBA Finals history to record a 40+ point performance with over 70 percent shooting. Using an updated game log data set of Irving's regular season and playoff games from the past two seasons, I plotted Irving's true shooting percentage versus his usage percentage, as well as points versus usage percentage. Irving's Game 5 is his highest true shooting in a playoff game in his career and his highest scoring game at or above that shooting percentage. His only two higher scoring games, 50+ point performances against the Spurs and Blazers, came in the regular season, one without LeBron James (against the Blazers).
TS% vs. USG%
PTS vs. USG%
For LeBron James, I also collected the playoff game logs from all 11 of his postseasons and plotted his points versus usage percentage. James's 41-point performance, while not as efficient as Irving and Chamberlain, is the his sixteenth playoff game with 40 or more points, four of which have come against the Golden State Warriors. The four games are also noteworthy as James's only Finals performances at that mark. Game 5 was both his highest point total and usage percentage amongst the nineteen games for the 2016 postseason, where he is averaging 25.4 ppg. He's only scored over thirty points two other times this year, Game 6 in Toronto and Game 3 of the Finals. It seems that James has been saving some of his best basketball for when his team needs it most.
PTS vs. USG%
For James and Irving, Game 6 will be another test, to see if Monday's 82-combined-points was an aberration or the start of a positive outlier. They'll need all the help that the other can offer to try and beat a 3-1 deficit that has never been overcome in the NBA Finals. For James, he can only hope with Irving this year can be different.