The Boston Celtics shocked the basketball world when they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 111-108 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on May 21. The game’s final score might not even have been the biggest surprise of the night, however. Cavaliers star forward LeBron James finished the night with 11 points on four-for-13 shooting from the field in 45 minutes of action.
“I had a tough game, period,” James said after the game that ended his eight-game 30-points or more streak. “Me personally, I didn’t have it…that’s what I have to say about my performance.”
After the wake-up call that was Game 3 for James and the Cavaliers, both parties should fare well in Game 4. Two players from the last two decades that have often been discussed with James among all-time greats are Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
Jordan’s worst playoff game is widely considered to be Game 4 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. In an 87-80 loss, the Bulls’ star guard shot 26 percent, going nine-for-35, from the field. Jordan ended the night with 29 points, eight rebounds, one assist, one steal and zero blocks. He tied for his lowest-scoring finals game with 22 points in a Game 4 loss against the Utah Jazz in 1997 on 11-for-27 shooting from the field. In Game 5 against the Heat, Jordan shot 36 percent from the floor to score 28 points to go along with his six rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. In Game 5 against the Jazz, Jordan shot 48 percent from the field to finish the night with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a block. The Bulls also won both Game 5’s.
Bryant’s worst playoff performance probably came in Game 5 of the 2000 NBA Finals. A week after spraining his ankle earlier in the series when Indiana Pacers guard Jalen Rose slid under Bryant during a jump shot, the Lakers’ guard finished the night with eight points, going four-for-20 from the field in 37 minutes. The Lakers lost Game 5 120-87. In Game 6, Bryant bounced back with 26 points on 30 percent shooting, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal. He also won his first championship that night in an 116-111 victory for the Lakers.
History shows that even in some of the worst playoff performances of an all-time great’s career, the bad nights are often just one-time outliers.