LeBron James: May 31, 2007 vs. May 31, 2018
Two of the King’s best career playoff performances oddly fell on the same day, 11 years apart
OAKLAND, California — It’s an eerie coincidence that only the basketball gods could explain. For some reason, the square on the calendar marked May 31 brings out a different beast on the court in the killer animal that is LeBron James. This date will forever live in the annals of his storied career — because it beholds two equally amazing playoff performances by the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, separated by more than a decade.
On May 31, 2007 — in an Eastern Conference finals series against the Detroit Pistons, knotted at two games apiece — a 22-year-old James put up a monster 48-point performance in a 109-107 Game 5 win. That night, he scored 29 of his team’s final 30 points, including a stretch of 25 straight.
“We threw everything we had at him,” said Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups after the game. “We just couldn’t stop him.” The Cavs would go on to close out the series in Game 6 to clinch James’ first NBA Finals appearance.
Fast-forward to now — the final weeks of the 2017-18 NBA season, during which James, 15 years into the league at the ripened age of 33, has experienced a pure renaissance of athleticism and longevity. For the first time since he entered the NBA in 2003, he didn’t miss a single game during the regular season. Come the playoffs, he advanced to his eighth consecutive Finals while carrying a much-scrutinized supporting cast of Cavaliers into a championship series against the Golden State Warriors for the fourth consecutive year.
On May 31, 2018, ahead of Game 1 of this year’s Finals, James arrived at Oracle Arena at approximately 3:55 p.m. Hours earlier, Nike released the limited-edition Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 1 25 Straight in celebration of what he’d accomplished against the Pistons on this day 11 years ago. And as he walked through the bowels of the stadium preparing to face the Warriors on basketball’s biggest stage yet again, it couldn’t be more fitting that James was toting a Thom Browne handbag, worth a whopping $41,000. Because come game time, as the popular slang phrase goes, he’d be completely “in his bag.”
Last night, LeBron James put up the 6th 50-point game in NBA Finals history, the first since Michael Jordan in 1993.
But with the Cavaliers coming up just………short……… he's the first player to score 50 in a Finals game and lose. pic.twitter.com/ARuQ2wye4f
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 1, 2018
In Cleveland’s heartbreaking 124-114 overtime loss, James dropped a playoff career-high 51 points, on an efficient 19-for-32 shooting from the field (3-for-7 from 3-point range and 7-for-10 from the free throw line), with 8 rebounds and 8 assists. He was so dominant during the game that cameras caught Warriors enforcer Draymond Green yelling, “F— you, p—y!” in the direction of the King.
“I just try to do whatever it takes to help our team win and try to be a triple threat out on the floor offensively … being able to score, rebound and get my guys involved. So I just tried to do that tonight,” James said after the game.
James topped his historic May 31 playoff performance from 2007 by three points but became the first player in NBA history to score 50 in a Finals game and lose. Perhaps the greatest single-handed display of basketball in Finals history, in the end, was all for naught. “I mean, it was epic, and he did enough to carry this team to a victory,” said Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue. “You know, we just came up short. But this is LeBron James, that’s who he is. That’s why he’s the best player in the world.”
James has played one other time on this calendar date in his NBA career. On May 31, 2011, in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, he scored 24 points while recording 9 rebounds and 5 assists for the Miami Heat in a 92-84 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
After Thursday’s Game 1, a frustrated James abruptly ended his news conference early after engaging in a heated back-and-forth with a reporter surrounding the end-of-regulation gaffe by teammate J.R. Smith that cost the Cavs a chance to win the game.
“Be better tomorrow,” James told the reporter as he walked out of the pressroom.
A moment of irony, for sure. Because on this night, for the second time in his career, LeBron James couldn’t have been better on May 31.