Skip to main content
Menu
LeBron, Kyrie And Draymond All Made History In The Cavs’ Win

When the smoke cleared on Game 5 of the NBA Finals, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving had powered the Cleveland Cavaliers to the seventh-biggest finals upset since 1984,1 according to FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings (our favored way to get a snapshot of team quality).

YEAR GAME UPSET ODDS
2001 Sixers @ Lakers 1 17%
1993 Suns @ Bulls 3 21
2003 Nets @ Spurs 2 21
1993 Suns @ Bulls 5 23
2014 Heat @ Spurs 2 24
2015 Cavs @ Warriors 2 24
2016 Cavs @ Warriors 5 26
1984 Lakers @ Celtics 1 27
1992 Trail Blazers @ Bulls 2 28
2012 Heat @ Thunder 2 28
Biggest NBA Finals upsets according to Elo forecast, 1984-2016

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

Of course, Elo doesn’t capture that a certain someone was missing from Monday night’s game. Draymond Green, the Warriors’ all-world defender, playmaker and swag leader was suspended for Game 5 after picking up a flagrant foul from a shot at LeBron’s … [groin] area. The suspension was historic in its own right: According to the Box Plus/Minus talent ratings,2 Green is the second-best player to miss a finals game since 1984. (Magic Johnson’s 1989 absence takes the top spot — by a mile.) So take the magnitude of the Cavs’ Elo upset with a grain of salt.

BPM TALENT RATINGS
YEAR PLAYER TEAM GAMES MISSED OFFENSE DEFENSE OVERALL
1 1989 Magic Johnson LAL 1 +6.5 +1.7 +8.3
2 2016 Draymond Green GS 1 +1.4 +3.7 +5.1
3 2000 Kobe Bryant LAL 1 +3.2 +1.2 +4.4
4 2015 Kyrie Irving CLE 5 +4.7 -0.8 +3.8
5 1990 Dennis Rodman DET 1 +1.3 +2.3 +3.6
6 2015 Andrew Bogut GS 2 -1.4 +5.0 +3.5
7 2016 Kevin Love CLE 1 +2.2 +1.3 +3.5
8 1996 Nate McMillan SEA 2 -0.1 +3.4 +3.2
9 2000 Chris Mullin IND 3 +2.4 +0.8 +3.2
10 1991 James Worthy LAL 1 +2.3 +0.5 +2.9
Dray is the second-best player to miss a finals game since ’84

Among players who played at least one finals game (i.e., those who were not injured earlier in playoffs, etc.)

Source: Basketball-Reference.com, Daniel Myers

But we shouldn’t let Golden State’s short-handedness take too much away from LeBron and Kyrie’s twin performances in Game 5. They scored 82 of Cleveland’s 112 points, accounted for 15 more with their assists to other Cavs and chalked up two of the top 22 single-game performances in the NBA Finals since 1984, according to Game Score, John Hollinger’s productivity rating. LeBron in particular dropped the second-best stat line of that entire span, trailing only Tim Duncan’s 2003 dismantling of the New Jersey Nets.

paine-finals-g5-reax-3

Together, LeBron and Kyrie combined for a Game Score of 72.4, the top single-game performance by a duo in the finals since 1984. That means their collective performance topped any by Jordan and Pippen, O’Neal and Bryant, or even James and Wade — and it’s not particularly close.

PLAYER 1 PLAYER 2
YEAR GAME TEAM NAME SCORE NAME SCORE DUO SCORE
2016 5 CLE LeBron James 39.2 Kyrie Irving 33.2 72.4
1992 1 CHI Michael Jordan 36.9 Scottie Pippen 28.8 65.7
1987 1 LAL James Worthy 32.0 Magic Johnson 30.9 62.9
1993 4 CHI Michael Jordan 38.9 Horace Grant 23.4 62.3
2013 4 MIA Dwyane Wade 30.6 LeBron James 29.6 60.2
1990 4 POR Clyde Drexler 33.9 Jerome Kersey 26.0 59.9
1985 5 LAL Magic Johnson 29.7 James Worthy 29.1 58.8
2001 2 LAL Shaquille O’Neal 32.2 Kobe Bryant 26.1 58.3
1992 5 CHI Michael Jordan 33.3 Scottie Pippen 24.5 57.8
Top combined average Game Scores for single-game finals duos since 1984

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

Missing from this picture: the rest of the Cavs. Kevin Love, the team’s purported third banana, scored just 2 points and grabbed three rebounds, alongside four fouls and two turnovers. As a team, the Cavs had 16 turnovers and 22 fouls. That’s why it took both a historic suspension and a historic two-man performance for Cleveland to upset the Warriors and bring the series back to Ohio.

Unfortunately for the Cavs, Green won’t be watching from next door in Game 6. And although LeBron and Co. will be at home, where Elo considers them 59 percent favorites to force a climactic Game 7, Cleveland was also the site of a late-game collapse and a double-digit defeat for the host team in Game 4. So the Cavs are not out of the woods yet — they’ve needed to make history to get this far against the defending champs, and to go any further, they’ll likely have to make some more.

Check out our NBA Finals predictions.

Footnotes

  1. The earliest year for which Basketball-Reference.com has complete game-level data.

  2. Consider these a slightly lower-fi version of ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus ratings, with the benefit that they can be computed going back to the 1970s. We’ve used them here in the past.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

Andrew Flowers writes about economics and sports for FiveThirtyEight.

Comments