(LeBron dunks home the tying bucket. Photo by Matthew Stockman, Getty Images)
In just his fourth season, LeBron James was already recognized as one of the greatest players of all time. At 22 years old, he was the runner-up in MVP voting and had the Cleveland Cavaliers -- who were devoid of a No. 2 scorer -- in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The one knock on James, at the time, was that he didn't always perform in the clutch. He had a bad habit of missing late free throws and was seen as passive when the game was on the line. In the first two games of the series with the Detroit Pistons, LeBron had the ball in his hands in the final seconds of both games. In Game 1, James passed it to an open Donyell Marshall, who missed the game-winner from the right side. In Game 2, James drove to the basket and forced a shot, hoping to be fouled. Both possessions yielded no points, both games were 79-76 losses (that coincidentally both ended where Anderson Varejao grabbed a missed free throw and threw it the length of the court).
Cleveland won the next two games at home at headed back to Detroit with the series tied. Carrying the criticisms of the first two games, LeBron James had one of the greatest playoff performances ever in Game 5. Within twenty-four hours, LeBron James went from a great player who notoriously crawled away from the limelight, to a big-game performer whose heroics paralleled Michael Jordan.
Cleveland won, 109-107, in double-overtime and took a 3-2 series lead into Game 6.
"It was very Jordanesque," said Chauncey Billups. "That kid was on fire, it was crazy. He put on an unbelievable display out there. It’s probably the best I have seen against us ever in the playoffs."
Michael Jordan said, "What just transpired was something I felt was needed for the league, was needed for Cleveland, was needed for LeBron."
In Game 6, the Cavaliers made quick work of the Pistons. Detroit retooled their defense and held LeBron to just 20 points, but teammate Daniel Gibson scored 31 off the bench, and Cleveland won by 16. The Cavaliers advanced to the NBA Finals, where the San Antonio Spurs swept them in four games.