The Warriors and Cavaliers met their inevitable fates Tuesday night. Golden State won Game 6 of the NBA Finals 105-97 to take the series from poor, championship-less Cleveland, despite LeBron James' generally absurd performance.
His final Finals numbers: 35.8 points per game, 13.3 rebounds per game, 8.8 assists per game and one sore back (probably).
Many thought that James should win the NBA Finals MVP award, but he came up short to Golden State's Andre Iguodala. Hall of Famer Jerry West remains the only person to win Finals MVP on a losing team, and that came way back in 1969, the first year the league gave out the award. It's a rare feat across the major sports, with the honor typically going to a star player on the winning team.
That said, here is a look at 10 athletes who join LeBron -- MVP or otherwise -- in having all-time great performances in the playoffs, only to have their team fall short. Think of it as the All-Good Job, Good Effort Kid team. Spoiler: In addition to these Finals, LeBron makes the list for a past NBA playoff effort too.
Jerry West, 1969 NBA Finals vs. Celtics
The Lakers legend went next-level during a seven-game series against Boston, but it wasn't enough to overcome what wound up being the last hurrah for the Bill Russell C's.
West averaged 37.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game. He capped that run with a game-high 42 points in Game 7, a 108-106 Lakers loss at home.
How important was West to the Lakers' competitiveness that series? Consider: He scored more than twice as many points as Los Angeles' next-best scorer, Elgin Baylor (18.0 ppg), and nearly 10 more points per game than the Celtics' top scorer, John Havlicek -- perhaps the only other series MVP candidate -- who averaged 28.3 points and 11 rebounds.
Allen Iverson, 2001 NBA Finals vs. Lakers
Iverson's effort for the 76ers in 2001 is in the same vein as LeBron this year: incredible individual scoring performance with little help around him. In the only Finals trip of his career -- against one of those great Shaq-Kobe Lakers teams of yesteryear, no less -- Iverson exploded for a game-high 48 points in Game 1, Philly's only win. Los Angeles took the next four to win in five games, with Shaquille O'Neal being named MVP.
Like LeBron and West, it's easy to gawk at Iverson's individual numbers: 35.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game. A lot of scoring and a little bit of everything else. The next highest scorer on the team? That would be star pitchman Dikembe Mutombo and his 16.8 average.
Iverson led the 76ers in scoring in all five games, and he led everyone on the floor in scoring in all but one.
Chuck Howley, Super Bowl V vs. Colts (1971)
The longtime Cowboys linebacker was in the tail end of his career by Super Bowl V, but he came up big for Dallas in a game the Baltimore Colts stole, 16-13, on a field goal with five seconds to play -- a result that might not have been nearly as close if not for Howley.
Howley's contributions that day: two interceptions and a recovered fumble. It was enough to earn him MVP honors, the first defensive player to do so in Super Bowl history.
Remember the best-player-on-the-winning-team rule of thumb? You might be hard-pressed to apply it here. Johnny Unitas was just 3-for-9 passing for 88 yards and a touchdown before leaving with an injury. The Colts' leading rusher was Tom Nowatzke with 33 yards and a touchdown, and no receiver had more than three catches.
Barry Bonds, 2002 World Series vs. Angels
Bonds' numbers from this seven-game classic are absurdly good. He went 8-for-17 with four homers, two doubles and six RBIs while walking 13 times and striking out just three times. That was good for a .471/.700/1.294 slash line and 1.994 OPS (!).
Bonds lost out on MVP honors to Troy Glaus, whose Angels rode the arm of rookie John Lackey to a Game 7 win, though Glaus' numbers were not as good as Bonds'. Glaus finished with a .385/.467/.846 slash line with three long balls and eight RBIs -- nothing to toss aside, certainly, but a tier below Bonds.
Mickey Mantle, 1960 World Series
Mantle's impressive run is (quite reasonably) overshadowed by the greatest finish to a World Series ever -- Bill Mazeroski's walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth to win Game 7 for the Pirates. It's the only World Series to end on a walk-off home run in Game 7.
For a while, though, Mantle helped keep the Yankees in it. He hit .400/.545/.800 -- that's a 1.345 OPS -- in the seven-game series. Three of his four extra-base hits were home runs, he knocked in 11 runs and he walked nearly as often as he struck out (eight walks, nine strikeouts). Mantle launched two homers and drove in five runs in Game 2, then had a 4-for-5 effort with a homer and two RBIs in Game 3, both blowout wins for New York.
It stands to reason he should've been Series MVP if not for Mazeroski's walk-off. Curiously, though, Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson was named MVP, despite not having as good a series as Mantle.
Hakeem Olajuwon, 1987 Western Conference semifinals vs. SuperSonics
Another case similar to LeBron and Iverson, with one especially noteworthy performance in the finale. Olajuwon scored 49 points and grabbed 25 rebounds, leading everyone in both categories, in the double-overtime Game 6 his Rockets narrowly lost, 128-125, to Seattle, who moved on to the Finals.
That contest was really just an extended version of each of the previous five for Olajuwon. He averaged 30.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.8 blocks points per game, significantly outpacing Houston's other leading scorers, Ralph Sampson (17.8 ppg) and Rodney McCray (16.7 ppg).
Ed Podolak, 1971 divisional playoff game vs. Dolphins
Podolak was a running back during his nine-year career with the Chiefs, but on Christmas Day 1971 he etched his name into the record books by doing it all during the so-called Longest Game Ever against the Dolphins.
He registered 350 all-purpose yards -- 85 rushing, 110 receiving, 155 on returns -- in a 27-24 double-overtime loss to Don Shula's Dolphins in a game that is indeed the longest in NFL history. Podolak's 350 total yards are still an NFL record for a single playoff game.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs vs. Devils
Leave it to hockey to be a little different. The NHL awards the Conn Smythe Trophy to the MVP of the entire Stanley Cup playoffs, as opposed to just the Stanley Cup Final, so there is definitely more room for a single player to establish himself as most valuable while playing for a team that ultimately falls short. No one has won it while playing for a team that failed to make the Final, though.
That said, the Conn Smythe has gone to a player on the losing team five times, most recently in 2003 when Giguere, the Anaheim goalie, took it home. He went 15-6 with a 1.62 GAA and .945 save percentage -- two marks that were second-best to only to the Lightning's John Grahame, with the Stanley Cup-winning Martin Brodeur of the Devils not far behind.
Although the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim fell to New Jersey in a seven-game Final, Giguere was integral to his team's unexpected run. Anaheim was seeded seventh (out of eight) in the Western Conference, then beat the second-seeded Red Wings in the first round and the No. 1 Dallas Stars in the conference semis.
Reggie Leach, 1976 Stanley Cup playoffs
Leach was the first and so far only skater to win the Conn Smythe while playing for the losing team. The other four have all been goalies.
This scenario is different from many of those above in that the MVP was not only on the losing team, but on a team that was swept in the final round.
Although the Canadiens beat his Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final, Leach finished the playoffs as the leader in goals (19) and total points (24) -- and no one else was especially close. Among his highlights were four tallies on Montreal's Hall of Fame goalie, Ken Dryden, in the Final; five goals in one game, a 6-3 semifinal win over the Bruins, after purportedly waking up late and hungover; and one overtime game-winner, also against the Bruins.
LeBron James, 2009 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Magic
May as well end this list with the guy who inspired it, right? It hasn't gotten a lot of attention during these NBA Finals, but James has had some practice at being pretty much the only capable player on his team. Most people remember it simply as "LeBron's first stint in Cleveland."
In the 2009 East Finals, which Orlando won in six games, LeBron put the team on his back to make it last that long. He was the leading scorer in each of the first five games -- including a 49-point effort in a Game 1 loss -- while finishing with 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game
The next-best Cleveland scorer was Mo Williams (18.3 ppg). None of LeBron's teammates crossed the 20-point plateau in a single game until Williams in Game 5 (24 points) and Delonte West in Game 6 (22 points). Other than that, it was all LeBron.
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Tim Healey is a contributor to Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.