Looking at LeBron James’ historic first-round in the playoffs and beyond

The Cleveland Cavaliers survived their first-round matchup against the Indiana Pacers almost entirely because of the stellar play of LeBron James. Cleveland will need more of the same starting tonight as they take on the top-seeded Toronto Raptors. Before the playoffs move on, let’s take a look at how historical LeBron has been and may continue to be.

LeBron’s first-round marks

By defeating the Pacers in seven games, LeBron is now 13-0 in first-round playoff series. This gives him the second-best first round mark since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in the 1983-84 season, only behind Derek Fisher and Robert Horry (16-0). However, he did have his record for most consecutive first-round wins (21) get snapped by Indiana.

LeBron had three 40+ point games in the first round against Indiana. This moved him past Jerry West (20) for second place all-time. He now has 22 and is only behind Michael Jordan (38). His buzzer-beater to win game five was the fourth of his career in the playoffs. Since LeBron entered the league, Paul Pierce is the only other player with at least two.

LeBron has now had at least 11 playoff games with 40 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. The players who have the second most (Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Russell Westbrook) have only four such games in the playoffs. According to Pro Basketball Reference, only 24 players have ever had one such game in the playoffs.

At halftime of game seven, LeBron had 26 points. This made him the first player to have at least that many points in the first half of a game seven since Pierce in 2008. LeBron finished that game with 45 points, the second most ever in a game seven win only behind Sam Jones (47) in 1963.


LeBron’s historic averages not so historic for him

Through the seven games in his first-round series, LeBron averaged 34.4 points, 10 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1 block. According to Pro Basketball Reference, LeBron is on pace to have only the sixth occurrence (fourth for him) of a player averaging at least 30, 9, and 7 in the playoffs.

Player Year Games MP Points TRB AST FG% 2P% 3P%
Oscar Robertson 1962-63 12 47.5 31.8 13.0 9.0 47.0% 47.0% N/A
LeBron James 2008-09 14 41.4 35.3 9.1 7.3 51.0% 57.1% 33.3%
LeBron James 2014-15 20 42.2 30.1 11.6 8.5 41.7% 46.5% 22.7%
Russell Westbrook 2016-17 5 38.8 37.4 11.3 10.8 38.8% 44.7% 26.5%
LeBron James 2016-17 18 41.3 32.9 9.1 7.8 56.5% 62.5% 41.1%
LeBron James 2017-18 7 41.1 34.4 10.0 7.7 55.3% 61.2% 35.3%

LeBron still has anywhere between 4 to 21 possible games to play this postseason to keep up these averages. However, it seems likely that he will considering how much he has to do in order for the Cavaliers to perform well and win thus far in the playoffs.

According to Pro Basketball Reference, there have been only 32 times in NBA history a player played at least 7 playoff games (averaging at least 30 min per game) with a usage percentage of at least 34. While LeBron’s usage percentage (34.6) is currently 27th among those, he is up there in age at 33 years old.

Only four players have been this age or older with a usage percentage as high in the playoffs. Michael Jordan in the 1997 playoffs (35.5 USG% in 19 games) and Kobe Bryant in the 2012 playoffs (35.8 USG% in 12 games) were both also 33.

Then you have Karl Malone (34.1 USG% in 20 games) and Jordan again (36.6 USG% in 21 games) who both did it in the 1998 playoffs. Give LeBron’s natural physical ability and conditioning, it seems very likely that he can keep up his current usage rate if he has to despite his age.


Info and Notes:

Featured Image: “LeBron James” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

LeBron’s playoff stats for 2018 from Pro Basketball Reference

ESPN Stats and Info Twitter for LeBron stats 

Pro Basketball Reference for 40, 10, 5 playoff games 

Pro Basketball Reference for LeBron’s historical averages 

Pro Basketball Reference for LeBron’s usage rate

Table made using Google Spreadsheets


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