By: James Smith
LeBron James is almost certainly the most talented player in the NBA today. When he won his third Most Valuable Player award a few weeks ago, he became just the eighth player in history to win the award three times -- and the others, including Bill Rusell, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan, are all in the Hall of Fame. All of them have also won multiple NBA titles -- a distinction that has so far escaped LeBron James.
In fact, LeBron has become as known for his playoff disappearances as for his regular-season brilliance. Here’s the a breakdown on his playoff history:
2006, Cleveland Cavaliers: Second-round loss to Detroit Pistons
This was LeBron’s first playoff appearance, so it’s hard to hold the second-round loss against him. In fact, James played exceptionally well, averaging almost 36 points in the first round against the Washington Wizards and then almost 31 in the Cavs’ seven-game loss to the Pistons. Given that the Pistons were also the top-ranked team in the East, the loss was mostly expected.
2007, Cleveland Cavaliers: Finals loss to San Antonio Spurs
For most of the 2007 playoffs, it looked like LeBron was finally going to lead the Cavaliers to the promised land, dominating series against the Wizards and the New Jersey Nets en route to an otherworldly performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit, when he scored 48 points -- including his team’s final 25 points on the way to a double-overtime victory. When the Cavs advanced to the Finals, however, they ran into the Spurs, and LeBron couldn’t rise to the occasion: the Cavs were swept, and LeBron began establishing his playoff legacy when he missed his biggest shot of the season, a potential game-tying three-pointer.
2008, Cleveland Cavaliers: Second-round loss to Boston Celtics
The Cavaliers weren’t as good in 2008 as they had been the year before, and it’s hard to deny that they ran into a better team when they got bounced by the Celtics, who had steamrolled through the league all season long and finished with a 66-16 record -- the only team to win more than 60 games. The Cavaliers pushed the Celtics to seven games, and James played well in the final game, scoring 45 points -- but the Cavs still lost, 97-92, with Paul Pierce scoring 41 for the Celtics.
2009, Cleveland Cavaliers: Eastern Conference Finals loss to Orlando Magic
All those years of running into better teams and having to shoulder the load more or less alone finally seem to have taken their toll in 2009, when James disappeared in six-game series loss to the Magic. Apart from making a game-winning three in Game 2, that season’s MVP was a non-factor for most of the series; he missed another potential game-winner in Game 4, and scored a playoff-low 25 points in the deciding Game 6. 25 points, of couse, is a healthy total -- but not when you’re the greatest active player submitting your worst performance in your most important game of the season.
2010, Cleveland Cavaliers: Second-round loss to Boston Celtics
It was in 2010 that James’s reputation as a playoffs vanishing artist really got going. James won a second MVP award that year, but the creaky Celtics, who had looked strong in the first part of the year but had faltered down the stretch, somehow put together a surprising playoff run to the Finals. James submitted his worst performance as a Cavalier in Game 5 of the Celtics series -- his last game as a Cavalier to be played in Cleveland -- when he scored only 15 points. He scored 27 in the deciding Game 6, but committed 9 turnovers.
2011, Miami Heat: Finals loss to Dallas Mavericks
LeBron underwent a media circus in his free agent summer, ultimately ending up with the Miami Heat. Though they struggled during the season, the combination of the talents of James and Dwyane Wade led them to the Finals, where they were heavily favored. What no one counted on was that Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki would take over the series, or that James would essentially tell Wade to take over for the Heat: James led the team by averaging 10 assists per game, but Wade shouldered the scoring load, averaging 26.5 points. Guess what? The Heat lost in 6 games.
Now, in 2012, LeBron is finally showing signs of life, refusing to roll over and die when the Heat were down late to the Pacers in Game 4 and instead roaring back to score 40 points and lead his team to a 101-93 victory. Will that be enough to inspire him to finally lead his team to victory? For the sake of all our favorite teams, let’s hope not.
[Pic via Flickr - Keith Allison]