James vs. Jordan Debate Continues

Jack Brewster, Columnist

The Cleveland Cavaliers completed a four-game sweep of the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the 2016–2017 NBA playoffs, capping off the series with a 106–102 victory on Sunday. LeBron James was superb throughout the series. He played his best in Game Three, when he recorded a triple double, scoring 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists.

It is hard to remember that just a few weeks ago, many were talking about the possible decline of LeBron James and the Cavaliers. James was largely left out of the MVP conversation this season. The Cavs, who finished 51–31, were eclipsed by the Boston Celtics with one game left in the season, falling from the No. 1 seed — a spot they’ve held almost all year — to No. 2 in the Eastern Conference. But 32-year-old James has taken a page from Michael Jordan’s playbook and saved his best play for the postseason. James gets better as the season winds down, and so do the Cavs.

After the Cavs swept the Pacers, The New York Times ran an article titled “LeBron James Issues a Timely Reminder of His Greatness.” In the article, Steve Cacciola wrote that in the final game of the series, “Playoff LeBron collected 33 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists,” wrote Steve Cacciola in the article on James’ play in the final game of the series. “Playoff LeBron shouldered the offense by attempting 25 shots, most of them layups. Playoff LeBron affixed himself to the Pacers star Paul George like a strip of Velcro, limiting him to 15 points. And Playoff LeBron made the big shot, a 3-pointer over Pacers center Myles Turner with just over a minute left.”

“Playoff LeBron” has consistently been a different — and better — player from “Regular-Season LeBron.” Over his career in the postseason, James has averaged higher points, rebounds, and blocks than during the regular season. In the past few years, his postseason play has been even better than usual. So far this postseason, James is averaging 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists. Last postseason, he averaged 26.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.6 assists en route to an NBA championship and Finals MVP. The year before, he averaged 30.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.5 assists. In each postseason, James has averaged more points, rebounds and assists per game than he did during the respective NBA season.

James is constantly compared to Michael Jordan, former Chicago Bulls’ shooting guard and Hall of Famer. ESPN analysts and fans bicker about who is truly the best professional basketball player of all time, and Jordan is almost always the consensus number one. The breaking point in the debate has always been Jordan’s postseason play.

Jordan — a six-time NBA champ — is famous for his postseason prowess. He averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game during his career in the regular season. But when the Bulls reached the postseason, Jordan’s play got better. He averaged 33.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game in the postseason. This is without mentioning the countless highlight reel plays and clutch shots Jordan made over his career as well.

But one could argue that James has made the debate more interesting. James has been to the Finals for six straight years. He has won three NBA championships and three Finals MVPs. If James keeps this string of excellent postseason play going, it will be hard to argue that Jordan is without a doubt the better postseason player.

If there’s one thing that’s certain, judging by his performance against the Pacers, right now James is the best player in the world and the Cavs are a force to be reckoned with.