LeBron James will face the fourth Game 7 of his NBA playoff career on Monday against the Indiana Pacers, meaning he'll be traveling down a road Kobe Bryant has frequented and one Michael Jordan wasn't forced to navigate.
Through 13 postseason appearances, His Airness incurred a Game 7 just three times, though he did see two Game 5s in the first round before the NBA switched to the best-of-seven format. In his 15 postseason excursions—not including the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers' playoff campaign—the Black Mamba has played in six. The Chosen One is now headed for his fourth in eight playoff berths.
While success is almost always put in the context of championship rings, Game 7 performances can be just as telling.
How a superstar competes under the pressure-filled circumstances—under the most literal notion of "win or go home"—says a lot about his character, about his resolve. It's essentially 48 minutes worth of clutch time. There is no bigger game, no greater moment than a Game 7.
Those occasions are when the legends are supposed to shine brightest—in theory. Did Jordan live up to such standards? What about Kobe? And has LeBron?
James has been crowned The King, but he may be forced to abdicate his throne when it comes to Game 7 accolades.
Bryant hasn't fared as well during his Game 7 bouts as one would expect.
In six outings, the Mamba has posted combined averages of 22.2 points, eight rebounds, five assists, one steal and 1.3 blocks on 38.9 percent shooting. Though he's not known as the most efficient of performers, that field-goal percentage is regrettable even for him.
Below are his stat lines from each of his six Game 7s:
|Career Playoff Avg||39.3||9.5||20.3||44.8||33.1||25.7||5.1||4.7||1.4|
As you can see, Bryant has been inconsistent as anything in these deciding games. He's shot 50 percent or better from the field just once, scored 30 or more just once and dropped under 20 twice.
Stemming back to 1964, Bryant has the second-most 30-point postseason outings in the NBA (88), trailing only Jordan (109). His career per-game average during the playoffs (25.7) isn't far from his Game 7 showings (22.2), but for someone who drops 30 points so frequently, his tapered point totals on some of the biggest stage is surprising.
The catch? Bryant's Lakers are 5-1 in Game 7s, equating to an 83.3 winning percentage. That's pretty damn good.
Also, one of these Game 7s wasn't just a series clincher, but it won Los Angeles the title. The Lakers' victory over the Boston Celtics in 2010 gave Bryant his fifth and most recent championship. Somehow, Tinseltown managed to emerge victorious despite him shooting just 25 percent from the field.
Overall, the Lakers saw Game 7s in four of their five championship campaigns under Bryant. It seems Game 7 victories all but foreshadow an inevitable title for the Mamba.
More important than anything, however, is the personal inconsistency. Bryant has found Game 7 success in the rebounding, assists and even blocks departments, but he's known for his scoring and big-time shooting. That he's shooting a full six percentage points below his career playoff average when it matters most is vexing.
His point totals make you scratch your head as well. Before 2012-13, we rarely bore witness to the point/shooting guard version of Bryant. He's always attempted to shoot the Lakers toward victory. And yet, in Game 7s, he's actually attempting fewer shots (18.8) than his playoff average (20.5).
So much for James not being able to score with a playoff series on the line.
He's seen three Game 7s through his previous seven postseason berths, which, quite frankly, is a lot. Now entering his fourth career Game 7, James' teams have been pushed to one in 50 percent of his postseason campaigns.
In these games, James is putting up a combined 34.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.3 blocks on 45.9 percent shooting.
Here's a look at how he's fared in each of his Game 7s thus far:
|Career Playoff Avg||43.2||9.6||20.3||47.4||32.0||28.2||8.5||6.7||1.7||83-47|
Compared to Bryant's, James' Game 7 performances seem more typical to that of superstar.
James' field-goal percentage (45.9) isn't through the roof, but he's posting more than 34 points per game and taking nearly 25 shots. His 34.3 points are actually the highest of anyone in NBA history who has played in multiple Game 7s.
Series on the line, facing elimination, you expect players like MJ, Kobe and LeBron to shoot more and thus score more.
That said, in what world does Bryant average more assists in Game 7s (five) than James (3.3)?
For his career, James dishes out 6.7 dimes a night to Bryant's 4.7. Shooting more or not, 3.3 seems obnoxiously low for a player who toys with triple-doubles on a nightly basis.
James' record in Game 7s is also disappointing. He was 0-2 when playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers—no wonder he left—and didn't win his first career Game 7 until his ninth season in the league.
Glass half-full, he is undefeated in Game 7s as a member of the Heat (1-0). Even though he's just faced one in South Beach, that has to count for something.
No one does Game 7s as well as Jordan...is what you would assume to read at this point. Really though, he hasn't trounced his competition the way most would believe.
To be fair, Jordan hasn't had many opportunities. He played in just three Game 7s through 13 postseason appearances (two first-round Game 5s prior to best-of-seven format). Approaching his fourth in eight years, LeBron is undoubtedly jealous.
Through his three Game 7s, Jordan averaged 33.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block on 45.7 percent shooting.
Take a look at his numbers by the game compared to that of his career averages:
|Career Playoff Avg||41.8||12.2||25.1||48.7||33.2||33.4||6.4||5.7||2.1||119-60|
Jordan's numbers are impressive, spectacular even. Knowing that he averaged 33.4 points per playoff game for his career, however, you find yourself assuming he would have averaged closer to 40 or 45 in his Game 7s.
His Airness was never known for his three-point prowess either, but learning that he failed to make a trey in any of these three contests is astounding. He actually only attempted two total threes between the trio of Game 7s.
Still, he nearly registered a triple-double in two of his three Game 7s. That's very Jordan-esque. Unlike James, his Bulls also had a winning record, so that's something too.
Chicago rarely pushed playoff series to the limit under Jordan. Three in 13 appearances seem like nothing, especially when pitted against James.
It also bears mentioning that in each year Jordan led the Bulls to a Game 7 victory (1992, 1998), they went on to win the NBA title.
There appears to be a pattern forming there. Los Angeles went on to win a championship with Bryant in four of the five instances it won a Game 7, James went onto win his first title following his only Game 7 win and Jordan procured a ring after his only two Game 7 W's as well.
Take away from that what you will.
Who's the King?
Had we gone by volume, Bryant would be the clear victor. He's appeared in as many Game 7s as James and Jordan combined. His Lakers are also 5-1 in those crucial contests.
Neither Bryant nor James' Game 7 stat lines are able to transcend that of Jordan, though. He had the most well-rounded performances of them all, routinely putting up a gaudy total in at least one department.
To be honest, they've all distinguished themselves in one way or another.
In addition to the highest points-per-game average of anyone who has played in numerous Game 7s in NBA history, James is also the only member of the three never to shoot below 40 percent under such circumstances.
Bryant is the only member of the three to bring down 10 or more boards at least twice, and again, he's led his team to a 5-1 record when facing a Game 7.
But it's Jordan who has the most polished of resumes. He played in just three Game 7s, yet he had a winning record (James doesn't) and managed to shoot a respectable clip from the field (Bryant hasn't). Failing to connect on any of his deep balls would be a great disappointment if he hadn't only attempted two total.
Fortunately for James, Jordan didn't build an insurmountable edge. The Chosen One is a mere dominant Game 7 outing away from potentially evening up the score.
Can he deliver against the Pacers and carry himself past His Airness in the process, or will he be left to continue doing what's he's been doing—chasing Jordan—for the past decade?
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, ESPN.com and NBA.com unless otherwise attributed.
**Also, NBA switched to best-of-seven first-round format for 2003 playoffs. Michael Jordan's two first-round Game 5s and Kobe Bryant's one first-round Game 5 prior to 2003 weren't included since LeBron James has never played a first-round Game 7.