LeBron James is playing in his tenth NBA Finals and is well on his way to his fourth NBA title. The Los Angeles Lakers are up 2-0 and LeBron is a perfect 23-0 at closing out in the postseason when taking the first two games.
As previously mentioned, James has only won three rings in his illustrious career. Part of that can be attributed to the relative ease his athletic dominance commanded in the weaker Eastern Conference. He also faced a stacked Golden State Warriors over four consecutive years.
It should be noted that until this year James has played in five Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers and four with the Miami Heat. As for opponents, LeBron faced the aforementioned Warriors four times, the San Antonio Spurs three times, and the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder once apiece.
For what it’s worth, we will rank these nine previous appearances over the next few days in anticipation of James’ fourth crown and possible MVP coronation (unless Anthony Davis has something to say about that).
In determining placement, we will look beyond stats and discuss the intangible factors that also play into the strength of James’ persona and performance.
With that, we start with his least notable Finals appearance and work our way up to #1.
#9 2014- Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs
The Heatles had won back-to-back NBA Finals and were looking to become the first team since the new millennium Los Angeles Lakers to 3peat (only the Michael Jordan Bulls and the Kobe/Shaq Lakers had pulled it off after the 1960 Celtics). The Big 3 of LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were primed and ready. They were facing a San Antonio Spurs team that had — for lack of a better word — choked in the previous Finals match up.
In the series, James earned a respectable 28.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.0 APG while shooing 57.1 and 51.9 from beyond the arc.
What makes this LeBron’s worst series is this is where the wheels came off.
During Game 1, the air conditioning went out in the AT&T Center and the normally indefatigable James overheated (pun intended) and had to be carried off the court. Definitely not the image you want going out into the stratosphere. And yet . . .
The Spurs produced The Beautiful Game and set a record 75.8% shooting for an NBA Finals half scoring 71 points. The emergence of Kawhi Leonard was undeniable. In the months to come discussions would ensue determining if Leonard had, in fact, surpassed LeBron James as the greatest player on the planet (Marc Jackson surmised he had) as Leonard led the Spurs to victory and claimed the MVP trophy that was James’ to lose.
The result was a Finals series that only went 4-1. In the weeks to come James would disappear to Las Vegas until free agency started and emerged with his tail between his legs. The Spurs had dismantled the Heat, ended his Big 3 reign, and humbled the great as he claimed it was time head home to win one for “the Land.”
Even while all the hype around LeBron’s “decision” loomed, the Spurs re-signed their entire team and got zero press. That is a testament to the public savvy and basketball greatness of LeBron.
#8 2018- Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
This was the fourth and final installment of the rivalry that dominated the latter half of the twenty-teens. By the time this series came around, the Warriors had beefed up their dominance by adding Kevin Durant and the Warriors taking back-to-back Finals was a no-brainer. It was passe and played out. There was nothing left for LeBron to do but admit the Eastern Conference just did not properly prepare him for the rigor of the Finals. Truth be told, nobody was beating Golden State, LeBron James was just the best of the nobodies.
The four games leading to the sweep (the first sweep since the Spurs knocked out the Cavs in 2007) were lost by a total of 60 points. This, like the 2014 Finals was enough to inform James that his time was done and he’d better be looking for a new place to build a championship caliber team.
#7 2011 Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks
After the hype of “The Decision” there could have been no worse than to blow the first championship run, but that is exactly what happened. Miami took Game 1, but lost Game 2. They regained home court advantage but lost the rest of the games (Game 6 on their own floor) in what turned out to be the lone ring for Dirk Nowitzki (and a past-prime Jason Kidd).
In his first series with Miami, he averaged 17.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 6.8 APG. Shooting 47.8% overall and a disappointing 32.1% from the 3 point line. But the clarity of James’ personal mission to take each game as his own permeate throughout the postseason.
The highlights don’t lie, LeBron is unstoppable in many aspects. Everyone knows James has an inner fire that ignites when the game is on the line. He is composed and meticulous under pressure. But in every incarnation of any LeBron James team, it becomes imperative he has the support from his teammates to take the double teams and expose the opponents weaknesses.
Tomorrow: Three series that define LeBron’s character.
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