LeBron James delivered a masterful performance in Game 5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers' second-round series with the Chicago Bulls, leading his young team to a 106-101 victory and one victory away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. While the four-time MVP has been Cleveland’s best player all season, he’s been asked to do even more than usual during the playoffs.
Tuesday’s game was easily James’ best performance of the postseason. He led the Cavs with 38 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks. James was also extremely efficient, averaging close 1.6 points per field goal attempt and committing no turnovers.
"LeBron was just outstanding in every element of the game," Cavs head coach David Blatt said. "You can't pick a thing that he didn't do at the highest level."
It’s easy to marvel at James’ statistics each night, but his Game 5 numbers are particularly impressive. The forward has carried an unusually heavy load this series because of the injuries his team has endured.
Kevin Love is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a shoulder injury, forcing head coach David Blatt to alter a lineup that was the best in the East for the second half of the season. Kyrie Irving scored 25 points on Tuesday, but he hasn’t been nearly the same player against the Bulls, especially on defense, because of injuries to both legs.
Cleveland was in control for most of Game 5, never trailing after the first quarter. At multiple points, it appeared the Bulls were set to take the lead, but James wouldn’t let his team fall behind.
The Cavaliers led by six points with five minutes remaining, but missed free throws by Tristan Thompson and a key turnover by Matthew Dellavedova allowed Chicago to pull within two with the ball. James responded with a high-flying block on Derrick Rose with 48 seconds left, keeping Cleveland’s 101-99 lead intact. He then grabbed the rebound off of a Jimmy Butler miss, securing the team’s victory.
In his first year back with the Cavaliers, James hasn’t had the same help he had with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. He was forced to take 30 shots in Game 4, as Irving missed eight of his 10 field goal attempts and starting shooting guard Iman Shumpert went just one-of-eight from the field. Even after expending so much energy through four quarters, he was able to his the game’s final shot to tie the series up at 2-2.
James, who left a group of veterans in Miami to play with a collection of young players, has also assumed more of a leadership role in Cleveland. He is often seen huddling his teammates together during breaks to offer explanations.
James also seems to understand the gravity of this series. The Bulls entered this 2014-2015 season with renewed determination to overcome the setbacks of previous seasons. Chicago won 50 games in the regular season despite injuries to Rose, Butler and Taj Gibson. Veteran big man Pau Gasol sat out Game 5 due to a hamstring injury, and his status for the rest of the series remains unclear.
At the start of the playoffs, Las Vegas odds makers had the Cavs (21/10) as the top East team to win the NBA Finals, followed by the Bulls (10/1).