LeBron James needs 28 points to surpass Michael Jordan in career playoff points
Eleven years after his NBA playoff debut, King James is in pursuit of history
“He’s either going to be nervous and struggle, or be nervous and play very, very well.” On April 22, 2006, before Game 1 of a first-round NBA playoff matchup between the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers, this is how Wizards forward Jared Jeffries envisioned the game unfolding for a 21-year-old LeBron James. The night marked James’ first career playoff game, and true to his primary defender’s prediction, he was nervous.
The first shot of his now 12-year-and-counting postseason career? A 26-foot 3-pointer that he air-balled. James, however, would soon settle in, turning a defensive rebound into a layup 25 seconds later for his first playoff points. By the end of the game, he boasted a 32-point, 11-rebound and 11-assist stat line, distinguishing himself at the time as the first player since Magic Johnson in 1980 to record a triple-double in his first career playoff game.
Now, more than 11 years later, you have to wonder if James has any nerves heading into Thursday night’s matchup between the Cavs and Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Similar to that storied April night in 2006, James again finds himself with a chance to make history. With 28 points against the Celtics, he could surpass Michael Jordan to become the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring leader.
In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Toronto Raptors, James passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to take sole possession of second place on the list of most points scored in league postseason history. Given how dominant James has been in these playoffs when it’s come to putting the ball in the basket, he really should already hold the top spot. But one 11-point off night in Game 3 (which his Cavs teammate Richard Jefferson later said resulted from James being sick) threw The King off course, setting the stage for the record to be broken in a potential series-clinching Game 5, after his 34-point performance in Game 4.
On the brink of achieving this milestone, James has to be battling some weird emotions. For his entire basketball career, he’s been chasing, in his own words, the “ghost” of Michael Jordan. And now he’s knocking on the door of breaking one of his longtime idol’s major records. Although James has more NBA Finals appearances (seven to six) and total All-NBA selections (13 to 11) than Jordan, the man considered to be the greatest of all time has the leg up on James in just about every other category: championship rings (six to three), MVP awards (five to four), Finals MVP awards (six to three), All-Star Game appearances (14 to 13), All-Star Game MVPs (three to two), All-Defensive first-team selections (nine to five), Defensive Player of the Year awards (one to zero), regular-season scoring titles (10 to one), and the list goes on.
But the career postseason scoring mark of 5,987 points that Jordan cemented in the final playoff game of his career, with the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals to win his sixth championship, is well within James’ reach. Yes, Jordan played fewer career playoff games (179 to James’ 211 and counting) and thus had a higher average (33.4 to James’ 28.2 points a game).
James, however, has a chance to grab hold of the GOAT’s (greatest of all time) ghost, even if ever so slightly, with a mere 28 points. He’s right there on the brink of establishing himself as the greatest scorer in the history of the NBA playoffs.
Not too bad for a player whose first career shot in the playoffs was an air ball.