Analytics Art: Breaking down LeBron’s Finals MVP performance

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit to win a championship. James was the unanimous choice for Finals MVP after fueling this comeback and became just the third player ever to notch a triple-double in a Game 7 of The Finals (something only James Worthy and Jerry West did).

Staring down a seemingly insurmountable deficit against the best regular-season team in NBA lore — previous teams in The Finals were 0-32 all time after falling down 3-1 — James responded with back-to-back 41-point outbursts in Games 5 and 6 before his Game 7 triple-double.

As if his individual performances were not impressive enough, James also led The Finals in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he’s the first player to ever lead a playoff series in five stats categories.

It ultimately didn’t matter, but James’ efficiency throughout the Game 7 triple-double performance was grim. James shot 9-for-24 (37.5 percent) and made 1 of 5 3-pointers. His performances in Games 5 and 6, however, were tremendous.

In terms of Game Score — a statistic developed by John Hollinger to provide a rough measure of a player’s individual performance in a given game — those 41-point explosions were by far the best games James had played all season.

A Game Score of 40 is considered an amazing while a 10 is average. LeBron’s Game 5 Game Score was 39.2 and his Game 6 netted a 42.5.

All told, James’ Game Score average in The Finals was a 26.5. That’s remarkably impressive, but where does it rank among past Finals MVPs?

The PointAfter team found the Game Score of each Finals MVP dating back to 1985. In those 30-plus years, James’ Finals performance ranks in the top eight all-time.

Only Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson trump James in this context, but the list also shows just how phenomenal those players were in their prime.

O’Neal averaged 38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.7 blocks while shooting 61.1 percent in The 2000 Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

In The 1991 NBA Finals, Jordan averaged 31.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 11.4 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.4 blocks and shot 55.8 percent in a five-game series win against the Johnson-led Los Angeles Lakers.

In 1987, Johnson nearly averaged a triple-double for the series (26.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 13.0 assists) while collecting 2.3 steals per game. He also shot 54.1 percent overall and 96 percent on his free throws as the Lakers topped the Boston Celtics.

In this year’s Finals, James proved once again how elite he is in the scope of the NBA annals. He orchestrated the most impressive Finals series comeback ever against arguably the best team in ages, added a third championship ring to his résumé and brought Cleveland its first NBA title.

Nevertheless, even for as flat-out good as LeBron was throughout the series (sustaining a high level through seven games), the numbers other guys posted somehow make James’ look human.

Even the most devoted LeBron doubters should, logically speaking, acknowledge his status as an all-time great. That being said, several former NBA superstars somehow were even more dominant than James was The Finals’ stage in 2016.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

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