Point Forward

Heat's LeBron James has raised his game when facing elimination

LeBron James and the Heat face elimination in Game 6 of NBA Finals If history is any indicator, LeBron James is poised for a big Game 6 Tuesday night. (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)

MIAMI -- The aura around six-time champion Michael Jordan has always gleamed just a bit brighter because he never needed a Finals Game 7 to secure a title. In pursuit of his second ring, LeBron James would do just about anything right now to get a crack at one.

Trailing the Spurs 3-2 in the Finals, James and the Heat will take the American Airlines Arena court for Tuesday night's Game 6 with their season on the line, hoping to extend the series to Thursday. Although James has yet to play in a Finals Game 7, the 2013 MVP has been through plenty of elimination games in eight playoff runs over his 10-year career.

Just 15 days ago, he stared down the possibility of a season-ending loss in the Eastern Conference finals, tallying 32 points, eight rebounds and four assists to send the Pacers packing in Game 7. And, two years ago, James and the Heat took the court in Miami under virtually identical circumstances to their current predicament, trailing the Mavericks 3-2 in the 2011 Finals before losing Game 6 and conceding the title.

Tuesday will mark the 12th elimination game of James' career. Through the first 11 games, James' teams have a 5-6 record, and he has posted averages of 31.5 points, 10 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game. Some of the best performances of James' career have come with his back against the proverbial wall: Game 6 against the Celtics in last year's Eastern Conference finals (45 points and 15 rebounds), Game 5 against the Magic in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals (a 37/14/12 triple-double) and Game 7 against the Celtics in the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals (45/5/6 in a loss), to name three.

James' play in previous elimination games suggests that he will play a ton of minutes, look to find his own offense and crash the boards with abandon. In previous elimination games, James has never played fewer than 40 minutes. He's averaged 22.7 field goal attempts per game (compared to 20.1 in the regular season and 20.3 in the postseason) and he's gotten into double-figures in rebounds on five previous occasions, including 19 in Game 6 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, tying his career-high.

Put simply: Set your Game 6 expectations higher than ever.

"I have to come up big for sure in Game 6," James said, following a Game 5 loss on Sunday. "But I believe we all have to play at a high level in order to keep the series going."

This table shows how James' numbers in elimination games compare to his overall regular-season and postseason stats.

Regular Season27.67.36.94939.7
Facing Elimination31.5106.446.444.5

Now, for the obligatory comparison to Jordan. Here's how James' numbers stack up to Jordan's when facing elimination.

LeBron James31.5106.446.444.5
Michael Jordan31.37.9744.541.6

Jordan's Bulls went 6-7 in elimination games, although it's worth noting that Jordan's list of elimination games includes a number of first-round contests, which were then played under a best-of-five format rather than a best-of-seven. Remarkably, Jordan faced elimination just three times after he turned 28, James' current age.

Even though a vast majority of Jordan's elimination games came early in his career and/or in early round matchups, he still had a number of signature moments in win-or-go-home games, including: "The Shot" over Craig Ehlo in 1989 and a 42-point outburst to send the Knicks packing from the 1992 Eastern Conference semifinals, to name a couple.

Here's how Jordan's elimination game numbers fare compared to his regular-season and postseason averages.

Regular Season30.16.25.349.738.3
Facing Elimination31.37.9744.541.6

Here's the full list of James' eliminations games in chronological order.

  • 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 7, Pistons: 27 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 11-for-24 shooting, 46 minutes: L
  • 2007 Finals, Game 4, Spurs: 24 points, 6 rebounds, 10 assists, 10-for-30 shooting, 46 minutes: L
  • 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 6, Celtics: 32 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 9-for-23 shooting, 46 minutes: W
  • 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 7, Celtics: 45 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 14-for-29 shooting, 46 minutes: L
  • 2009 Eastern Conference finals, Game 5, Magic: 37 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists, 11-for-24 shooting, 45 minutes: W
  • 2009 Eastern Conference finals, Game 6, Magic: 25 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 8-for-20 shooting, 44 minutes: L
  • 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 6, Celtics: 27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists, 8-for-21 shooting, 46 minutes: L
  • 2011 Finals, Game 6, Mavericks: 21 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists 9-for-15 shooting, 40 minutes: L
  • 2012 Eastern Conference finals, Game 6, Celtics: 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 19-for-26 shooting, 44 minutes: W
  • 2012 Eastern Conference finals, Game 7, Celtics: 31 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 9-for-21 shooting, 47 minutes: W
  • 2013 Eastern Conference finals, Game 7, Pacers: 32 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 8-for-17 shooting, 40 minutes: W

Here's Jordan's list.

  • 1985 first-round, Game 3, Bucks: 35 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 12-for-26 shooting, 42 minutes: W
  • 1985 first-round, Game 4, Bucks: 29 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists 6-for-16 shooting, 42 minutes: L
  • 1986 first-round, Game 3, Celtics: 19 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 8-for-18 shooting, 39 minutes: L
  • 1987 first-round, Game 3, Celtics: 30 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, 9-for-30 shooting, 39 minutes: L
  • 1988 first-round, Game 5, Cavaliers: 39 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 12-for-22 shooting, 43 minutes: W
  • 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 5, Pistons: 25 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 10-for-22 shooting, 43 minutes: L
  • 1989 first-round, Game 5, Cavaliers: 44 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 17-for-32 shooting, 44 minutes: W
  • 1989 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 6, Pistons: 32 points, 4 rebounds, 13 assists, 13-for-26 shooting, 42 minutes: L
  • 1990 Eastern Conference finals, Game 6, Pistons: 29 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 11-for-20 shooting, 39 minutes: W
  • 1990 Eastern Conference finals, Game 7, Pistons: 31 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 13-for-27 shooting, 45 minutes: L
  • 1992 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 7, Knicks: 42 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 15-for-29 shooting, 42 minutes: W
  • 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 6, Magic: 24 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 8-for-19 shooting, 39 minutes: L
  • 1998 Eastern Conference finals, Game 7, Pacers: 28 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 9-for-25 shooting, 42 minutes: W
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