With a 3-1 series lead in the 2020 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers have a chance to clinch their 17th NBA championship on Friday night, which would tie them with the Boston Celtics for the most in history. As usual, LeBron James has been stellar in the Finals and many are expecting him to have a monster Game 5 against the Miami Heat to close things out.
After all, he has the best closeout record in NBA postseason history (minimum 25 games) at 38-10 and has had some of the greatest performances of his career in these types of games, the most recent being his triple-double to close out the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets (38 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists).
LeBron James also had a triple-double the last time he won the NBA Finals in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors, LeBron posted 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. James also posted a triple-double to win his first title with the Miami Heat with 20 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds. And while we’re at it, he had 37 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists the night he won his second championship. So the guy obviously knows how to close out a series.
But this is the Lakers we’re talking about. If LeBron James wants to be included on the list of the greatest NBA Finals closeout performances in franchise history, he’ll need another special game to match these classics.
Shaquille O’Neal started the Lakers’ three-peat with a dominating performance in Game 6 of the 2000 NBA Finals
In Game 6 of the 2000 NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers, Shaquille O’Neal led the Lakers to their first championship since 1988 with a dominating performance. Shaq made 19 of 32 shots from the floor for 41 points and added 12 rebounds and four blocks in the Lakers’ 116-111 victory. For the series, Shaq averaged 38 points, 16.7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks to win the first of three consecutive NBA Finals MVP trophies.
‘Big Game James’ had an MVP-worthy performance to close out the Pistons in 1988
The 1988 NBA Finals between the LA Lakers and Detroit Pistons is truly an underrated series. As the Lakers/Celtics matchups of the 1980s still get most of the attention from everyone even now, this series doesn’t get mentioned as much as it should as one of the best NBA Finals in history. These two teams battled for seven games in a very physical and emotional series and it took a special performance from a special player for the Lakers to win their fifth title of the decade.
James Worthy played a game-high 44 minutes for the Lakers in Game 7 and had one of the best games of his Hall of Fame career. Worthy shot 68.2% (15-for-22) from the floor for 36 points, pulled down 16 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists in the Lakers’ 108-105 victory. He was named NBA Finals MVP and proved that “Big Game James” was a well-deserved nickname.
Magic Johnson played all five positions for the Lakers in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals
Magic Johnson’s performance in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals isn’t just the greatest NBA Finals closeout performance in Lakers history. It’s the best NBA Finals closeout performance of all time.
With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who’d averaged 33.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks over the first five games against the Philadelphia 76ers, sidelined for Game 6 with an ankle injury, Magic Johnson stepped up and led the Lakers to victory. Still just a rookie, Magic played all five positions that night and scored 42 points, shooting 14-for 23 from the floor and a perfect 14-for-14 from the foul line. Johnson also added 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and a block in the Lakers’ 123-107 victory, earning NBA Finals MVP.
Can LeBron James match or better any of these great performances? We’ll find out soon enough. The LA Lakers and Miami Heat meet in Game 5 of the 2020 NBA Finals on Friday night at 9:00 Eastern/6:00 Pacific on ABC.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference