LeBron James made history in the first half of Game 4 of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals. It just wasn’t the kind of history that he, the Cleveland Cavaliers or their fans like very much.
When James bowled over Boston Celtics reserve guard Terry Rozier on a drive with 6:46 remaining in the second quarter, he picked up his fourth foul. That’s a lot of fouls in the first half! Like, more fouls than the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player — who once famously went 254 minutes, 7 seconds of on-court time in a 17-day span without being called for any personal fouls — has ever picked up in the first half of a gae in his 14-year NBA career:
LeBron has never had 4 fouls in the first half in his career. Only had 3 playoff games with 4 fouls over last two years.
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) May 24, 2017
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had elected to keep James in the game after he’d picked up his third foul at the 8:55 mark of the second quarter while contesting a Marcus Smart 3-pointer from the short corner, sending Game 3’s hero to the line for three freebies. The decision made sense; James has certainly earned the league’s longest leash with his Hall of Fame exploits, and Lue’s got to trust his top gun not to put himself and the team that so desperately needs him in dangerous positions by playing too aggressively and courting that bang-bang call.
But it backfired in a big way, sending James to the bench for the final 6:46 of the first half with the Celtics having already built a double-digit lead, carrying over their strong play from Game 3’s second half to seize control. He entered intermission with 10 points — one fewer than he had in all of Game 3 — on 5-for-9 shooting to go with three rebounds, two assists and a block in 15 minutes, 32 seconds of floor time.
As you might expect, James getting himself into early foul trouble is exceedingly rare, and has not boded very well for his team over the years:
LeBron James' teams are 1-4 when he has 3 fouls in the first half of a playoff game.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 24, 2017
James’ fellow All-Star scorer, Kyrie Irving, carried the load in LeBron’s absence, scoring 12 points over the final 6:46 of the frame to keep the Cavalier offense afloat. But the Celtics continued to move the ball and themselves one (or more) steps ahead of Cleveland’s sloppy defense, keeping the Cavs at bay and heading into halftime with a 57-47 lead.
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