The LeBron Game: A Historical Perspective

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 07: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat attempts a shot in the second half against Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 7, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

LeBron James scored 45 points in Game 6 while making 19-26 from the field. Such high-scoring, high-efficiency games are relatively rare in the playoffs, and this one stands among the best of them.

By now you already know that LeBron James scored 45 points on 19-26 shooting to guarantee that his Miami Heat team would stave off elimination on the road against the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He also had 15 rebounds and five assists. It was a simply unbelievable performance, not least because among his 19 field goals were very few easy ones. Time and again, James took contested mid-range jumpers -- statistically, the worst shot in basketball -- and he converted over 70 percent of them. It was one of the great playoff performances in recent memory.

Let's put some context around the game. Ignoring rebounds and assists (if you include them, the list gets pared down really quick) and focus solely on high-scoring combined with high efficiency, there have been 42 playoff performances since 1986 where a player has scored over 40 points while making at least two-thirds of his field goal attempts -- call it the 40/.667 club. The list includes Rajon Rondo's 44 points on 16-24 shooting in Game 2 of this very series, and Dwyane Wade's 41 on 17-25 in Game 6 of the East semis against Indiana. (If you're keeping score at home, that's one of these monster games per week in the Eastern Conference playoffs over the last three weeks -- wow.)

As you might imagine, there are some all-time NBA greats on the list. Michael Jordan did it four times. Thursday was James' third time. Dirk Nowitzki, Shaquille O'Neal, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Wade have all done it twice, while Dominique Wilkins, Patrick Ewing, Kevin Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Carmelo Anthony are all members of the club as well. There are also some names you wouldn't expect to see: Anthony Johnson scored 40 on 16-23 for Indiana in 2006 and Bonzi Wells went for 45 on 16-24 while he was with Portland in 2003. Both of those more obscure games, perhaps not surprisingly, came in losing efforts.


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Another surprising name on the list is Sleepy Floyd. Every other player to accomplish this feat more than once since 1986 is already or will eventually be in the Hall of Fame. Floyd was a great scorer, but he's just not on the same level as the others on the list. Yet Floyd managed to accomplish the feat in consecutive postseasons, playing for two different teams. James now joins Floyd as only the second player in the past 26 seasons to have a 40/.667 playoff game with more than one team.

Perhaps the most spectacular high-scoring, high-efficiency playoff performance came in 1994 when Charles Barkley, while he was with Phoenix, scored 56 points on 23-31 shooting against the Golden State Warriors. However, that game probably warrants a big-old asterisk -- because it was against the Warriors. Don Nelson's 1994 Warriors weren't exactly known for their defense; the final score of the game was 140-133, Suns.

If you limit the list to games in the Conference Finals or Finals, in other words to the most important rounds of the playoffs, there are only 11 40/.667 games since 1986. Jordan only did it once at such a late stage of the playoffs -- 45 points on 16-23 shooting in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Orlando in 1996 as the Bulls swept the Magic on their way to the first title in their second threepeat. With his performance Thursday, James is now the only player to have two of these games in a Conference Finals series or later -- he scored 49 on 20-30 shooting while he was with Cleveland against Orlando in a Game 1 loss in the 2009 East Finals.

There are other ways to define a great performance in a playoff game, of course. James himself had perhaps his most memorable playoff performance in 2007 against the Pistons when he scored 48, including Cleveland's final 24 points in regulation and throughout two overtimes; but he "only" shot 18-33 in that game -- that's more than twice as many misses as he had in Game 6 against Boston.

Forty points while making two-thirds of your shots is arbitrary of course, but it's a useful demarcation of a high-scoring, hyper-efficient game. LeBron's performance Thursday night -- 45 points, .731 from the field, 15 rebounds, five assists -- is among a relative few in the past 26 years and ranks as one of the most spectacular of any postseason.

And it's the reason that there will be a Game 7 on Saturday.

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