LeBron James just became the first NBA player in over 60 years to reach the NBA Finals in five consecutive years, but apparently, that’s not enough for the perpetually-angry internet.
The Cavs, without Kevin Love, and missing point guard Kyrie Irving for two games, just swept the 60-win Hawks, who had homecourt advantage. Atlanta is the first team in 17 years to win 60 games and then get swept in the playoffs. I know – you never believed in the Hawks all season and the Cavs were were the real favorites. You were right!
So how about the fallacy that LeBron never beats anyone good in the playoffs?
Why exactly is 50 wins is the barometer here? Because it’s a nice round number? It sounds good? That’s just nine wins more than a .500 team. Fifty wins is just a good season. Not great. It feels like a player who bats .300 or someone who has 1,000 yards rushing in the NFL. All those numbers sounded better a few years ago before the Statistical Revolution.
Look at this list of the best regular seasons in NBA history (winning percentage .750 or better). Excluding the strike-shortened seasons, and focusing on just the modern era, these players (and their teams, obviously) beat the following 62+ win teams:
* Jordan beat four of them (’96 Sonics, ’97 Jazz, ’93 Suns, ’98 Jazz) in the Finals
* Dwight Howard beat two (’09 Cavs, ’09 Celtics) in the ECS, ECF
* Magic beat two (’85 Celtics, ’91 Blazers) in the Finals, WCF
* Larry beat one ‘(81 76ers) in the ECF
* LeBron beat one (’11 Bulls) in the ECF
* Tim Duncan beat one (’05 Suns) in WCF
* Kevin Durant beat one (’12 Spurs) in WCF
* Dirk beat one (’06 Spurs) in WCS
You can take this any way you’d like. Those four teams Jordan beat? All in the West.
So Kobe is the leader of beating a lot of good teams in the playoffs (per the graphic above) but when it comes to “ELITE” teams – those that won 75% of their regular season games – Kobe has never beaten one in the playoffs. And he’s unlikely to start now that Shaq and Pau Gasol are just L.A. memories.
What LeBron is currently doing is otherwordly. Groundbreaking stuff this generation of basketball fan has never seen before.
LeBron James is averaging 27.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 8.3 apg so far in the 2015 playoffs. Only one other player has matched the 27-10-8 in the postseason in the last 50 years: Oscar Robertson in 1963. That’s when he averaged 31.8 ppg, 13 rpg, 9 apg in 12 games for the Cincinnati Royals. Magic didn’t have the scoring to match the rebounds and assists; Jordan couldn’t match LeBron in the rebounds and assists.
LeBron does it all.
INTERNET: But he’s only shooting 17% on three-pointers in these playoffs!
You won’t hear this from any of the keyboard ninjas who only romanticize 80’s and 90’s basketball: Michael Jordan also had an outlier playoff year from deep, too. In the 1997 playoffs, he only shot 19.4% on three-pointers. (For their careers: Jordan shot .327 from three in the regular season on 1178 attempts and .332 in the postseason on 446 attempts. LeBron was .342 on 3671 and .319 on 759.)
We’ll have an entire week to debate the greatness of LeBron, and talk about whether or not the Cavs can actually beat the Warriors. The Cavs are heavy underdogs. The Warriors have homecourt advantage.
All I ask: Enjoy LeBron in his prime. He turns 31 in December and that’s the age injuries started to slow Larry Bird. (It’s also around the age that HIV forced Magic to walk away from the game and Jordan gave baseball a try.) LeBron already has more miles on his legs than Larry, Michael or Magic did at that age. He’s played more regular season minutes than Larry or Magic did in their careers; he’s played more playoff minutes than Bird, and will pass Magic in that department in next year’s playoffs. So enjoy LeBron while you can.