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On LeBron James’ Finals record

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LeBron James toppled Goliath.

Of the 17 teams to win 80% of their regular-season games, none had ever lost in the Finals. Five lost before the Finals, evidence that regular-season success doesn’t always translate to the playoffs. But if they were still rolling in the playoffs to the point they reached the Finals, they were unbeatable, a perfect 11-0 in the championship round.

Until LeBron led the Cavaliers over the 73-9 Warriors – the best of the bunch – with historical production.

And he did it after falling behind 3-1 to a team that won three straight in the conference finals. Golden State was dominating, especially against Cleveland.

The degree of difficulty here was sky high, though that’s nothing new for LeBron.

LeBron’s average Finals opponent in seven trips has won 75.5% of its games, the highest mark among anyone who has made at least six Finals.

LeBron has beaten the 2012 Thunder (47-19), 2013 Spurs (58-24) and 2016 Warriors (73-9). He has also lost to the 2007 Spurs (58-24), 2011 Mavericks (57-25), 2014 Spurs (62-20) and 2015 Warriors (67-15).

Of course, regular-season record isn’t a perfect representation of team quality. Injuries, trades and development can change a team’s ability to win in the Finals from the regular season. But, if anything, these factors probably undersell LeBron’s level of competition. LeBron thrice faced San Antonio, a team notorious for resting during the regular season to save its energy for the playoffs. Plus, these teams had to win the Western Conference – the far better conference during LeBron’s career – just to reach the Finals.

The only player with even five Finals appearances who has faced tougher competition is James Jones, who road LeBron’s coattails to all five of his Finals. Jones just missed average-lowering matchups with the 2007 Spurs and 2011 Mavericks. His Finals opponent averaged winning 77.7% of its games.

Lower the threshold to four Finals, and just two players top LeBron: Bob McAdoo and Mike McGee, whose average Finals opponent won 75.6% of its games. McAdoo and McGee reached four straight Finals with the Lakers beginning in 1982 – beating the 76ers (58-24), losing to the 76ers (65-17) and Celtics (62-20), then beating the Celtics (63-19). But McAdoo was on the edge of playing starter’s minutes, and McGee didn’t crack the rotation.

Compare LeBron to a loose definition of his peers: players with at least five Finals appearances and one career All-Star selection in their careers. Here’s every qualifier sorted by average winning percentage of Finals opponent with the the player’s Finals record in parentheses:

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Suddenly, LeBron’s 3-4 Finals record looks more excusable. None of the players with shinier Finals records whom LeBron is often compared to had to face such strong competition.

But Michael Jordan came close.

He went 6-0 in the Finals, beating:

  • 1991 Lakers (58-24)
  • 1992 Trail Blazers (57-25)
  • 1993 Suns (62-20)
  • 1996 SuperSonics (64-18)
  • 1997 Jazz (64-18)
  • 1998 Jazz (62-20)

Those teams won 74.6% of their games – not far behind LeBron’s average Finals opponent (75.5%). Considering his far-superior Finals record, Jordan clearly outdoes LeBron in the last round.

Still, it’s worth noting Jordan never beat anyone as good as Golden State. Not only did the Warriors have an incredible record, they were were defending champions.

Maybe it’s only because they had to face Jordan, but five Jordan’s six Finals opponents never won a title with the core that lost to the Bulls. The other, the Lakers, had steeply declined by the time it faced Chicago. Jordan never had to face the Rockets, the team that ascended to the top while he retired between three-peats.

All of LeBron’s opponents but the Thunder – Spurs, Mavericks and Warriors – won championships. They proved they had the mettle to compete deep into June.

But that’s just a comparison to Jordan, the greatest player of all time. LeBron holds up even better against other legends.

While LeBron’s Finals opponents were on a 62-win pace in an 82-game season, Kobe Bryant (5-2 Finals record) faced Finals opponents averaging 56 wins. Tim Duncan (5-1 Finals record) saw Finals opponents averaging a 53-win pace. The Finals opponents of Bill Russell (11-1 Finals record) were on a 49-win pace.

No, LeBron still doesn’t have a winning Finals record. But put other stars in the matchups he has faced. How many go even 3-4? How many beat these Warriors?

If we’re grading everyone on a curve for competition, LeBron rates incredibly well.

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates and family for helping him reach this point.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win.

The last player from Europe to win the MVP award was Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

 

Rudy Gobert wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year for second straight season

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Rudy Gobert owns the paint for the Utah Jazz.

And he owns the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

Gobert won his second straight DPOY award Monday night, beating out the other 2019 finalists Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George.

The Jazz had the second best defense in the regular season and it is completely built around Gobert and his abilities in the paint, which is what separated him for this award. Utah’s defense was 20.1 points per 100 possessions better when Gobert was on the court and gave up less than a point per possession with him as the anchor.

This was a deep field with players such as Myles Turner of the Pacers, Joel Embiid of the 76ers and others getting votes as well.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer named NBA Coach of the Year

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Mike Budenholzer unleashed Giannis Antetokounmpo and from the start that made him the Coach of the Year favorite (and maybe Antetokounmpo MVP).

It was a wire-to-wire win for Budenholzer, who was the frontrunner for this award from early on and was named the NBA Coach of the Year Monday night, the second time he has won this award (Atlanta in 2015).

Budenholzer was the favorite with good reason. The Bucks won 16 more games than the season before and had the best record in the NBA, they improved their net rating by +10.1, and became a top-five team on both ends of the floor. To be fair, part of Budenholzer’s success was a contrast to how poorly the previous coach handled this roster, but give Budenholzer credit for utilizing players well.

He beat out Doc Rivers of the Clippers and Mike Malone of the Nuggets in what was a very deep field for this award.

Clippers’ Lou Williams won second-straight, third overall Sixth Man of Year Award

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The Clippers bench play this season was the reason they made the playoffs (and pushed the Warriors to six games in the first round). Montrezl Harrell blossomed into his own as part of that.

However, it was Lou Williams who made it all work, which is why he won his second straight (and third overall) Sixth Man of the Year Award on Monday night. He garnered 96 of the 100 first-place votes.

Williams spoke from the heart about second chances and his faith in himself.

“Four years ago, I thought I was done, like I was coming to the end of my career,” Williams said.

Williams averaged 20 points a game and he is still one of the better bucket getters in the NBA, an isolation master. What he did better this year, however, was playmaking, dishing out 5.4 assists per game. His teammate Montrezl Harrell — the NBA’s best energy big off the bench last season who finished third in the Sixth Man voting — was the biggest beneficiary of those passes.

Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis came in second in the voting, with Spencer Dinwiddie of the Nets third and Terrence Ross of Orlando fifth. Here is the voting breakdown.