Cavs vs. Warriors: What history says about LeBron James teams down 2-0 in NBA playoffs
A series never starts until a road team steals a game, especially when you have King James on your roster
It's not often a LeBron James team is down 2-0 in the playoffs, but that's the situation the Cavaliers are in during the 2018 NBA Finals. James himself has been incredible so far for the Cavs. He scored 51 points in Game 1 and 29 points in Game 2. Across both games he has dished out a combined 21 assists and pulled down 17 rebounds. It just hasn't been enough to overcome the Warriors.
However, that doesn't mean it's time to count out the Cavs just yet. James has been in this situation before. There are few players that respond with their back against the wall quite like James does. He doesn't always come out on top, but when he has the results have been incredible. LeBron has been in this situation eight different times, and has managed to lead his team back to win three of those eight series, including once in this postseason and once against the Warriors two years ago. As the series shifts to Cleveland for the next two games, here's a look at how he's fared every time his teams have lost the first two games of a playoff series:
2006 Eastern semis: Cavs lose to Pistons in seven
This was James' first foray into the playoffs. He pushed the Cavs out of the first round but met up with the defending Eastern Conference champions. This was the mid-2000s Pistons at their best with Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups. When James went down 2-0 to this monstrosity, it would have been no surprise to see him bow out in four or five.
Instead, James and the Cavs won three in a row with a chance to eliminate Detroit back home. He fell short in the end, losing a close Game 6 at home and an ugly 79-61 Game 7 in Detroit. This was no fault of James. His 26.6 points per game led the team. Second highest? Zydrunas Ilgauskas with 10.6 points. It took the Pistons seven games to hold down James in his first playoff appearance and it wasn't long until they had to deal with him again.
2007 Eastern finals: Cavs beat Pistons in six
The very next season, James met the Pistons in the playoffs once again and just like before, he found himself down 2-0. Detroit had the same core from the year before in its fifth-straight conference finals. However, this time was different for James and Co.
James has had a lot of moments in his career that fans will talk about forever, but Game 5 of this series is one that many still consider his greatest act. In a double-overtime thriller, James scored 29 of the Cavs' final 30 points. He finished with 48 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
His Game 5 performance gave the Cavs a 3-2 lead that they did not squander this time. He scored 20 points, pulled down 14 rebounds and dished out eight assists in a closeout Game 6 victory. James was on his way to his first NBA Finals.
2007 NBA Finals: Cavs lose to Spurs in four
What James did to the Pistons was incredible, but he couldn't make magic happen twice. He ran into a dynastic Spurs team. Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich were on their way to their fourth NBA title together behind one of the most stifling defenses the league has ever seen. That San Antonio team only allowed 97 points per 100 possessions. Did some of it have to do with the era they played in? Yes. Was it still great? Absolutely. It's no wonder they were too much for James Cavs.
The Spurs swept the Cavs, but the final two games were within James' grasp with San Antonio winning Game 3 by three points and Game 4 by one point. At the end of the series, cameras caught Duncan giving words of encouragement to James telling him it would be his league soon. He wasn't wrong.
2008 Eastern semis: Cavs lose to Celtics in seven
A superteam was born. No, not the Hamptons 5 Warriors, or Miami Heatles. The Boston Three Party with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce was formed with one goal: Win a championship. The three stars had done everything they could by themselves and needed to form together to achieve a common goal. Standing in their way was James.
At this point, James was no longer a young player trying to figure out his way in the NBA. He was an established top player in the association. What followed was one of the most impressive seven game series of James career. The home team won every game, but there were some serious battles. James himself was incredible. He scored 35, 32 and 45 in the final three games of the series. He also had a dunk that will be remembered forever.
James had the scoring and the highlight-reel plays, but he didn't win the series. He did everything he could, but his supporting cast wasn't quite up to the level that Boston had. The Celtics would go on to win the championship.
2016 NBA Finals: Cavs beat Warriors in seven
James would manage to avoid a 2-0 hole for the next eight years, never facing a deficit of that kind while in Miami. In that time he left Cleveland, won two championships with the Heat and then returned to Cleveland. Standing in his way was a new rival. The historic Stephen Curry-led Warriors. Golden State had just won 73 regular-season games and defeated this same, albeit injured, Cavs team the year before. When James went down 2-0 the series felt wrapped up. The question was if the Cavs could win even a game. Forget the series.
Just about everybody knows the story after that. The Cavs would win Game 3 at home, but lose Game 4 to go down 3-1 with two games left in Oracle Arena. Nobody in NBA history had come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals. James proceeded to score 41 points in both Games 5 and 6. He had arguably the signature highlight of his career in Game 7 -- the chase-down block.
James hadn't faced a deficit of this kind since 2008 and his response was to play some of the best basketball of his career. He came up huge in three straight elimination games to give the city of Cleveland its first major sports title in 52 years.
2017 NBA Finals: Cavs lose to Warriors in five
The following postseason wasn't as great for James. The Warriors responded to their 3-1 Finals collapse by adding the only player in the NBA that could come close to James' stature on an individual level. Kevin Durant, seen by many as the second-best player in the league behind James, gave the Warriors yet another weapon. The Cavs themselves had an offense that, when not compared to the Warriors, was pretty great in their own right.
However, that wasn't enough to put a dent in the Warriors machine. James averaged a triple-double for the series and it was only enough to prevent a sweep in Game 4. That one victory by Cleveland was the only loss dealt to Golden State for the entire playoffs.
2018 Eastern finals: Cavs beat Celtics in seven
This season has been an odd one for the Cavs. Their performances have fluctuated wildly between something resembling a great team to one that has no business reaching the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row. Never have the Cavs felt more vulnerable than when they were down 2-0 to a young, injury-riddled Celtics team.
Cleveland looked completely out of sorts early on, and even when it won Games 3 and 4 at home, it still laid an egg in Game 5. It was up to James to bring them out of a 3-2 deficit and he responded with two games that left everybody watching him in awe of what he could accomplish.
James not only forced a Game 7 with his 46-point performance, but then he added 35 in Game 7 to clinch his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance.
This is what James does when his back is against the wall. He has been down 2-0 plenty of times, but every time he has responded with a performance that many times was historic. Game 5 in Detroit, Game 6 against Boston, and the entirety of the 2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors could very well come away with yet another victory over James. He's not unbeatable. However, it's not going to come easy. He's proven that plenty of times in his career already.
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