On May 31st in 2018, LeBron James dropped a Finals career-high 51 points in Game 1 of the championship series against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.
In regulation, he was seconds away from leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to an upset win in what was the fourth straight Finals series between the Warriors and Cavs, however, ultimately his performance went in vain as the visitors lost the game in overtime 124-114.
His 51 points, the fifth-highest ever scored in the Finals, were the most ever recorded in a loss. Playing 47:32 of a possible 53 minutes, James also recorded eight rebounds and eight assists on 19-of-32 shooting from the field and 10-of-11 from the free-throw line.
This was his eighth game of the 2018 postseason of scoring at least 40 points - tying Jerry West for most ever in a single postseason. That's not all. This was also James' 109th career playoff game of scoring at least 30 points - tying Michael Jordan for the most ever.
Being outscored 17-7 in the extra session, there was no doubt that for James and the Cavaliers, the best chance to win this game was in the final seconds of regulation.
With 4.7 seconds left, George Hill was going to the line for two free-throws as the Cavaliers trailed 107-106. He made the first to tie things up at 107 but missed the second which was rebounded by J.R. Smith and possibly unaware of the situation, he dribbled the clock out to take the game to overtime. Here's the play:
"We've got to move on," James said after the loss. "This game is over and done with. We had opportunities."
This James masterclass will go down as one of the best performances ever. Some reporters at the arena described it to the best they have ever witnessed live. It even earned praise from the opposing coach and rightfully so.
"They have a guy who is playing basketball at a level that I'm not sure anybody's ever seen before, when you consider everything he's doing," Kerr said postgame.
Although the Warriors were missing Andre Iguodala, who was out for the fifth straight game with a bone bruise in his left knee, they were quite superior to the Cavaliers roster. James was the only All-Star for the visitors, while the hosts had four.
"It was a crazy game," Steph Curry said. "... The finals, man, anything is liable to happen."
Technically, anything was liable to happen but eventually, the Warriors, like many predicted, swept the Finals - recording the ninth Finals sweep in NBA history.
Other notable events on May 31st
- In 1983, the Philadelphia 76ers clinched their third championship in franchise history by sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals (4-0). After finishing with a league-best 65-17 record in the regular season, the 76ers went 15-1 in the playoffs. Their 92.8% winning percentage was the best until the 2001 Lakers went 15-1 (93.8%) in 2001. The 1983 76ers finished just one game off of Moses Malone's prediction of going 'Fo',Fo',Fo' in the postseason. The franchise later commemorated Malone's prediction, with one slight alteration, on their championship rings: "Fo' Fi' Fo'."
- In 1984, Gerald Henderson Sr. came up with a clutch steal as he stole a crosscourt pass by James Worthy and laid the ball in with 13 seconds in Game 2 of the 1984 NBA Finals. His play forced overtime and helped the Celtics win 124-121. The Celtics would eventually win the Finals in seven games for their 15th NBA title.
- In 1993, Michael Jordan erupted for 54 points (18-of-30 FG; 6-of-9 3PT) and led the Bulls to a series-tying 105-95 Game 4 victory against the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Notable playoff eliminations on May 31st
- In 2014, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-107 in overtime in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. Thus, booking their sixth NBA Finals appearance in franchise history and second consecutive - a feat they had achieved for the first time in franchise history.
- In 2004, the Los Angeles Lakers booked their fourth NBA Finals appearance in five years after a 96-90 Game 6 home victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference Finals.
- In 2002, the New Jersey Nets booked their first Finals appearance since the NBA-ABA merger with a 96-88 Game 6 victory against the Boston Celtics.
- In 1998, the Chicago Bulls defeated the Indiana Pacers 88-83 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Thus, booking their third straight Finals appearance and the sixth in the previous eight years. For the Bulls, it was only their second Game 7 in the playoffs during their championship years.
- In 1994, the Houston Rockets advanced to their third Finals in franchise history and the first since 1986 with a 94-83 Game 5 victory against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals.
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