LeBron Set To Match Kobe In Playoff Appearances

04/20/2018 at 03:04pm

By Brian Martin

During last year’s run to the NBA Finals, LeBron James became the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer, surpassing Michael Jordan and becoming the first player to ever eclipse 6,000 playoff points.

A look at the all-time playoff leaderboard shows LeBron’s name sprinkled near the top of just about every conceivable category.

He’s in the top three in points, assists, steals, minutes, field goals made and attempted, 3-pointers made and attempted, free throws made and attempted and turnovers. He’s ranked seventh in rebounding and 20th in blocks.

In Game 1 of Cleveland’s first round series with Indiana, LeBron posted his 20th career playoff triple-double as he currently ranks 2nd all-time behind Magic Johnson’s 30.

After dropping Game 1, LeBron came out with a vengeance in Game 2, scoring Cleveland’s first 16 points in the first five minutes of the game en route to a 46-point night as Cleveland won Game 2 to even the series as it shifts to Indiana. It was LeBron’s 20th 40-point playoff game, which tied him with Jerry West for the second-most in playoff history, behind Michael Jordan’s record of 38, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

When LeBron takes the floor on Friday night in Indiana, he will appear in his 220th career playoff game, tying him with Kobe Bryant for 6th on the all-time list. Kobe’s is another name that appears among the all-time playoff leaders in multiple categories.

With LeBron set to tie Kobe in games played, let’s take a closer look at these two legendary players and their playoff careers. (All stats and rankings prior to Friday’s games)

Perhaps the most fascinating detail about LeBron and Kobe in the playoffs is the fact that these two contemporaries never met in the postseason. With Kobe playing his entire career with the Lakers and LeBron a fixture in the Eastern Conference between Cleveland and Miami, the only place they could have met was the NBA Finals.

But it never happened. Kobe made seven Finals appearances in his career and LeBron already has eight, but not one was against each other. Consider this: since the turn of the century, there have been 18 NBA Finals; 15 of them featured either Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, including each of the past 11, but not one featured them both players.

NBA Finals With Kobe or LeBron Since 2000

  • 2000: Kobe (Lakers win championship)
  • 2001: Kobe (Lakers win championship)
  • 2002: Kobe (Lakers win championship)
  • 2003: Neither
  • 2004: Kobe (Lakers lose Finals)
  • 2005: Neither
  • 2006: Neither
  • 2007: LeBron (Cavaliers lose Finals)
  • 2008: Kobe (Lakers lose Finals)
  • 2009: Kobe (Lakers win championship)
  • 2010: Kobe (Lakers win championship)
  • 2011: LeBron (Heat lose Finals)
  • 2012: LeBron (Heat win championship)
  • 2013: LeBron (Heat win championship)
  • 2014: LeBron (Heat lose Finals)
  • 2015: LeBron (Cavaliers lose Finals)
  • 2016: LeBron (Cavaliers win championship)
  • 2017: LeBron (Cavaliers lose Finals)

As the list above illustrates, Kobe has a 5-2 record in the Finals compared to a 3-5 record for LeBron. While Kobe has the edge in championships, the tale of the tape heavily favors LeBron as he leads all major statistical categories with the exception of turnovers, free throw percentage and a slight edge in 3-point percentage. Kobe has the highest-scoring game between the two (50 points), but LeBron holds the edge in 40-point games, 20-13.

Kobe vs. LeBron: Playoff Stats Averages
Leader bolded in color

Statistic Kobe Bryant LeBron James
Games Played220219
Minutes39.342.1
Points25.628.5
Rebounds5.18.9
Assists4.76.9
Steals1.41.8
Blocks0.71.0
Turnovers2.93.6
Field Goal %44.848.6
3-Point %33.132.9
Free Throw %81.674.2
Playoff Appearances1513*
Finals Appearances78
NBA Titles53
Finals MVPs23
*currently in 13th playoffs

Kobe made the playoffs 15 times in his 20-year career and made his postseason debut as an 18-year old rookie out of high school. LeBron is currently in his 13th playoff appearance in his 15th NBA season. But while Kobe hit the playoff stage as a rookie, LeBron was in his third season and at 21-years-old before he first tasted the postseason. That’s the difference between being picked 13th in the draft and being added to a team that was coming off a 53-win season and a playoff appearance (Kobe) compared to being the No. 1 overall pick by a team coming off a 17-win season and a five-year playoff drought (LeBron).

But its important to make the distinction as Kobe was a bench player in his first two playoff appearances (20 games) before making the leap in year three. LeBron didn’t have those lean playoff appearances in his first two seasons as it took until his third year for the Cavs to even break into the playoffs. When you see LeBron’s edge in minutes and points, keep in mind that Kobe’s first 20 playoff appearances came as a teenager just getting his feet wet in the NBA.

Another distinction that has to be discussed is the change in playoff format in 2003 as the first round went from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven. Kobe appeared in six playoffs and won three titles under the old format, while LeBron came into the league under the new rules. By needing four wins to advance past the first round, LeBron had a higher percentage of games against lower-seeded teams than Kobe did during his playoff career.

But when we look at the numbers, LeBron rarely needed many first round games to advance to the Conference Semifinals. In fact, Cleveland’s loss to Indiana in Game 1 of this year’s playoffs was LeBron’s first opening round playoff loss since 2012, snapping a streak of 21-straight First Round wins. Take a look at the numbers below to see just how dominant LeBron and his teams have been in the opening round.

Record By Playoff Round

Playoff Round Kobe Bryant LeBron James
First Round50-24 (.676)49-8 (.860)
Conf Semis34-30 (.531)*44-21 (.677)
Conf Finals28-17 (.622)34-18 (.654)
Finals23-14 (.622)**18-27 (.400)
*missed two games due to illness (flu)
**missed one game due to injury (ankle)

LeBron holds the win percentage advantage over Kobe in the first three rounds of the playoffs, but Kobe turns the tables in the Finals. These type of superstar comparisons will always fuel arguments over who is the greater player, who had the easier path to the Finals, who had the most difficult challenges to secure the championship?

While finding agreement over these questions is virtually impossible, what we can do is appreciate the careers that both of these men put together, with one still being written. Of course, what would have helped settle these debates is if Kobe and LeBron had ever squared off on the championship stage. L.A. had a three-year run (2008-2010) to the Finals that provided the best opportunity for the dream match, but LeBron and the Cavs were thwarted by their nemesis from Boston twice and an upstart Orlando squad once.

It’s fitting that after Kobe’s last Finals appearance in 2010, LeBron began his run of seven straight Finals appearances, which he is looking to extend to eight with the Cavs this season.