By Michael Pinto, for NBA.com
Posted May 20, 2013 2:48 PM
In LeBron James' first postseason, the Cleveland Cavaliers took a heavily-favored Detroit Pistons team the distance before falling 79-61 in Game 7 of the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals. Having lost the first two games of the series, Cleveland took a 3-2 series lead before dropping the last two games.
The following season, James and the Cavs had a chance for redemption ... and this time, they didn't squander it.
Cleveland and Detroit would meet again, this time in the Eastern Conference finals, after finishing the regular season with the East's two best records — the Pistons at 53-29 and the Cavs at 50-32.
But while the matchup round was new, the opening results were the same. Cleveland went into Detroit and lost each of the first two games of the series by a score of 79-76.
James was heavily criticized after Game 1 for scoring a then-playoff career-low 10 points. The chirping grew louder when James' miscues played a major role in Detroit taking Game 2 in similar fashion.
However, Cleveland had been in the same shoes the postseason before and battled back against the odds. As such, James would recover from his earlier struggles and carry Cleveland to victories in Games 3 and 4.
In Game 3, James led the way with 32 points -- falling an assist and rebound short of a triple-double -- in Cleveland's 88-82 victory. Just two nights later, James would again take the reigns with 25 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, falling just short of a triple-double again in a 91-87 Game 4 win.
Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals was something entirely different, though. The game ended in a 109-107 double-overtime win for Cleveland, but it was James' performance that immortalized things.
Each of the first four games of the series had been decided by six points or less and Game 5 appeared to be headed in the same direction halfway through the fourth quarter. At that point, James had a modest 19 points and the Cavs were leading 79-78 with 6:05 remaining.
James then hit a 17-foot jumper that began a jaw-dropping scoring run of that left the Pistons speechless.
"We threw everything we had at him," Detroit guard Chauncey Billups would say of James following the game. "We just couldn't stop him."
In just over 16 minutes of game time, James would score 29 of Cleveland's 30 points, including the team's final 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting from the field. He'd force overtime on a driving dunk with nine seconds remaining and then finish the game off in double-overtime with a driving layup with two seconds left.
With the 109-107 victory and a 3-2 series lead heading back to Cleveland, the Cavs dominated Game 6 98-82 to earn the franchise's first Finals trip -- James again fell just short of a triple-double with 20 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists.
The Cavs, overwhelmed by a veteran Spurs squad, were swept in the Finals. But, looking back on the 2006-07 season, James' Game 5 performance stands out in the minds of many.
"I feel bad that my words don't do justice for what he did," Cavs coach Mike Brown said at the time.
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