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Lebron James: In Defense of Six Finals Losses

Though LeBron James has become synonymous with the NBA Finals, ever since left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, he has become the most criticized player in NBA history.  This criticism goes no farther than James’ 3-6 NBA Finals record.

Defending LeBron James’ NBA Finals Losses

LeBron James’ Three Finals Wins

James has been successful throughout his career, and winning three championships is no small feat. Two of these, 2013 and 2016, were both game seven wins where James played outstanding.  He has also been the finals Most Valuable Player every time. The highlight though was coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, led by unanimous Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry.

The Six Finals Losses

2007: San Antonio Spurs: 4, Cleveland Cavaliers: 0

LeBron’s 3-6 finals record is not very good, only winning one-in-three of his trips made to the NBA Finals. However, he has also had some of the worst luck in history. In his first appearance back in 2007, James carried the Cleveland Cavaliers at 23 years old.  

The King would run into the San Antonio Spurs at their peak. The Cavaliers were low on experience, were not nearly matching the talent, and also were severely out-coached.  Nobody expected them to even make the finals, so James really overachieved this season.  

2011: Dallas Mavericks: 4, Miami Heat: 2

Oh, the “LeChoke” series. LeBron James averaged 18 points, seven rebounds, and six assists, and for him, that is terrible. There really is no defending James here specifically, but it is unfair that he catches all the flak.  

Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks swept Kobe Bryant’s two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant, too, would not play very well. The Mavericks would also follow up that series by taking out Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook in five games.

2014: San Antonio Spurs: 4, Miami Heat: 1

This series was one of the many James versus a super team series. Not only did he have to deal with the monstrous defense of Kawhi Leonard, but he would also face Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. James led the series in points per game by ten points, averaging 28 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.  

James had little help, as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were both showing early signs of age and were struggling mightily this series. The Miami Heat had a thin bench, and the Spurs bench was maybe the best in the league. No Miami players performed well, and the Spurs were excellent outside of even their best players. James was outmatched and faced a double-team against multiple excellent defenders.  

2015: Golden State Warriors: 4, Cleveland Cavaliers: 2

This was the first win of the Golden State Warriors dynasty, and the first season James returned to Cleveland. This series should have been won by Cleveland as they were better, but they were all injured. Before the playoffs, Brian Windhorst reported that LeBron James had five different injuries. James had already dealt with a lower back injury earlier in the season.

Obviously, the real reason that the Cavaliers did not come away with the title was the injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Love suffered a dislocated shoulder against the Boston Celtics in the first round. Irving would fracture his kneecap in game one of the NBA Finals.  

James would play like a monster, leading each team in every statistical category. He led every game in points scored except for game four and led the game in rebounds three out of the six games. James averaged 36 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists for the series. This is a forgotten performance in the long biography of James’ NBA Finals appearances.  

2017: Golden State Warriors: 4, Cleveland Cavaliers: 1

Round three of the Cavaliers versus Warriors war was heavily favored to the Warriors. Golden State signed Kevin Durant on July 4th, 2016 after blowing a 3-1 lead to Cleveland a month prior.  This was viewed as a move that locked the Warriors in as 2017 champions. It was heavily believed that Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green would walk through the season. This was correct, as they went 16-1 in the playoffs.  

James, despite playing like a monster, was heavily outmatched. He averaged 34 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, but nothing he did could have been enough. The Warriors were too good, and there was not much to be done about it.  

2018: Golden State Warriors: 4, Cleveland Cavaliers: 0

Prior to these finals, it is worth noting that many expected the Toronto Raptors to be the team to lose to the Warriors in 2018. James had one of the worst supporting casts in his career. He would lead the entire playoffs in both points and assists. James was the only player on the Cavaliers to score 20+ points in the first round but still won the series. The next round he would sweep the Raptors in the famous “LeBronto” series. James would single-handedly beat a very deep Celtics team, a team that was much better coached. Every team James and the Cavaliers faced were better than them, but James simply played the best basketball of his career.

Round four, the conclusion of the Cavaliers versus Warriors finals, saw a clean sweep. Kyrie Irving was gone, the Warriors were the same, and James had no arsenal. This series’ highlight is George Hill missing a free throw with J.R. Smith thinking Cleveland was up one. James actually visibly called a timeout, but like usual, got no help from the referees. After this move, it looked like the end. James had dominated, but the overtime saw Golden State take over. When LeBron James scores 51 points while adding eight rebounds, and you lose, there is no hope.  

James averaged 34 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10 assists. The most impressive is the 10 assists though, as that means James’ teammates actually made more than 10 shots.  Basically, this was the worst supporting cast in memory. If James won this series, he would have been the undeniable GOAT.

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