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).
|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|
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|
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.
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|
|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|
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.