For better or worse, a large part of a player’s legacy is defined by their performance in the postseason. That reality even affects LeBron James; for all of his success, some critics can’t overlook his sub-.500 record in the NBA Finals. The LA Lakers star, however, still has one statistical ace up his sleeve.
While he might not have the best record in the NBA Finals, King James is sure to step up when there’s a chance to close out the series. In fact, a victory on Friday night could make him the (statistically) best closer in NBA history.
LeBron James’ dominant basketball career
Given that he’s wrapping up his 17th season of professional basketball, it’s not groundbreaking to say that LeBron James is a generational talent. It is, however, worth noting that it’s rare for a player to be this good for this long.
After a difficult childhood, James burst onto the scene at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, immediately becoming a national star. He then joined the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first-overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft, becoming a sports savior for the state of Ohio before burning some bridges by jetting off to South Beach.
In Miami, King James won two titles with the Heat; while that was quite a few short of his initial claims during an infamous press conference, he had finally claimed some hardware. He would return to Cleveland, win another championship, and then join the Lakers in free agency.
While he’s no longer a young man, LeBron is still playing incredibly well in Hollywood. His stats may have shifted a bit—he’s been scoring a bit less and assisting more this season—but the forward is still capable of dominating any game. Posting an average stat line of 25.3 points, 10.2 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per night is no mean feat for anyone, let alone someone who will turn 36 in a matter of months.
LeBron James has a perfect record in championship-clinching games
In some circles, LeBron James’ 3-6 all-time NBA Finals record is viewed as a black mark; making it to the championship, only to lose, isn’t always considered an accomplishment. When the forward gets a chance to close out a championship, however, he doesn’t miss.
According to an Elias Sports Bureau stat shared in a recent ESPN post, James, along with Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Willie Naulls, and Mario Elie, is a perfect 3-0 in games when he can clinch the NBA title; he’s also averaged 30 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists in those three games, proving that he’s stepping up in the big spots. If the Lakers can close out the series on Thursday night, he’ll be the only player in NBA history to move to 4-0.
Outside of the Finals, James is still an elite closer. According to another ESPN post, the forward has won 79.8% of his career “closeout games,” which, once again, is the top mark in NBA history.
As with other stats, there’s plenty of room for argument an interpretation; LeBron, for example, could have a terrible game on Friday and, if the Lakers win, he’d still move to 4-0. With that being said, though, having a perfect record in championship-clinching moments is still a pretty impressive thing to put on your resume.
Can the LA Lakers close out the NBA Finals on Friday night?
As conventional sports wisdom says, the final win of a series is always the toughest; when a team is facing elimination, you know that they’re going to give 110% and do whatever they can to stay alive. With that being said, though, LeBron James and his LA Lakers probably have a good chance of lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy after Game 5.
On paper, the Lakers simply seem to have too much star power. Even in ideal circumstances, it’s tough to deal with both LeBron and Anthony Davis; doing that with Bam Adebayo working his way back from an injury and Goran Dragic severely limited, if he’s able to play at all, that task looks unsurmountable.
If the Lakers win the 2020 NBA championship, the debate about LeBron James’ place in the all-time rankings will begin with renewed fervor. Should he seal the series in Game Five and move to a perfect 4-0 in championship-clinching games, though, King James will have another star next to his name.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference