The 2022 playoffs are underway and a familiar face is missing. Since LeBron James made his appearance in the NBA back in 2003, he has missed the playoffs just four times in his career. That also includes just two times since 2005. While many call this season with the Lakers a failure, it should not take away what James has done in his career come playoff time.
While James is taking a seat and watching this year, it’s a perfect time to reflect on what he has done in the playoffs. Many point to his two fewer rings than Michael Jordan, but what many like to overlook is his eight straight appearances in the NBA Finals, which also includes 10 overall appearances.
Here is the playoff resume of LeBron James.
2003-04 NBA Season - Did Not Appear
The Cavaliers finished the previous season 17-65 and were rewarded with the No. 1 overall pick. The team used the pick on hometown hero LeBron James. In his first season, James led the Cavaliers to a 35-47 record, which was a 20-win improvement. With that said, the team finished with the No. 9 seed and missed the playoffs.
It took some adjusting for James in his first season. The Cavaliers lost their first five games of the season and started the year 6-19 in their first 25 games. In the end, the Cavaliers were just one game away from making the playoffs. James was awarded Rookie of the Year and Cleveland had home for the first time in a while.
2004-05 NBA Season - Did Not Appear
The Cavaliers made moves before the season began by acquiring Drew Gooden and Eric Snow. The team had playoff aspirations with James in his second season. The Cavaliers owned a winning record up to the All-Star break, winning 30 of their first 51 games. James was joined by Zydrunas Ilgauskas at the All-Star Game.
The team began to tumble in March though. After a six-game losing streak, head coach Paul Silas was fired and Brendan Malone took over. The team finished the season 42-40 and once again was the No. 9 seed, just missing the playoffs.
2005-06 NBA Season - Eastern Conference Semifinals
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Detroit Pistons 3-4
Stats: 30.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.7 BPG
For the first time in his career, James qualified for the playoffs. The Cavaliers finished the season 50-32 and second in the Central. It was also the first time since 1998 that the Cavaliers qualified with Shawn Kemp. In the first round, the Cavaliers made quick work of the Washington Wizards to take on the dynast Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons, just two years removed from their 2004 NBA championship, were expected to win. However, the Cavaliers were not intimidated and powered their way to a 2-2 series tie. James powered Cleveland to a Game 5 win with 32 points, but the Pistons held onto a two-point advantage in Game 6 before taking Game 7 as well.
2006-07 NBA Season - NBA Finals
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. San Antonio Spurs 0-4
Stats: 25.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 8.0 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG
James was now experienced and more focused than ever. The Cavaliers swept the Wizards in the first round and then defeated the Nets 4-2 in the second round. James led the Cavaliers in scoring in five of the six games. That set up a rematch with the Pistons, who took an early 2-0 lead in the Conference Finals. However, James led the Cavaliers to four straight wins, including 48 points in Game 5 to defeat the Pistons.
Appearing in the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers were heavily overwhelmed by the championship-caliber San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs made quick work of Cleveland with a 4-0 sweep. The Cavaliers battled through, losing 75-72 in Game 3 and 83-82 in Game 4.
2007-08 NBA Season - Eastern Conference Semifinals
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics 3-4
Stats: 28.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 7.6 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.3 BPG
The Cavaliers finished fourth in the standings with a 45-37 record to earn the four seed. The team met a familiar opponent in the Wizards. Washington used an 88-87 win in Game 5 to stave off elimination before James poured 27 points and 13 rebounds in the elimination game. That brought a match with the Celtics, who had acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen that offseason.
The Cavaliers trailed the Celtics 2-0 but fought back to tie the series after two games at home. In Game 5, the Celtics won 96-89 despite 35 points from James, but James used 32 points to help Cleveland win 74-69 in Game 6. In the final game, James scored 45 points, but the Celtics hung on 97-92 to win the series and eventually win the NBA championship.
2008-09 NBA Season - Eastern Conference Finals
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic 2-4
Stats: 35.3 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.9 BPG
The Cavaliers won 66 games to claim the NBA’s best record. It looked like this could be the year that James was going to lead Cleveland to an NBA championship. The playoffs started that way too by sweeping the Pistons in the first round and then sweeping the Hawks in the semifinals. That set up a matchup with the Orlando Magic, where the Cavaliers were heavily favored.
Instead, the Magic shocked the world and denied the opportunity of a Kobe Bryant/LeBron James NBA Finals. The Magic took Game 1 107-16 despite 49 points from James. The Cavaliers took Game 2 by a score of 96-95. The Cavaliers dropped the next two games, which included a 116-114 overtime loss in Game 4. In Game 5, James starved off elimination with 37 points, but the Magic clinched the series with a Game 6 win where James was limited to 25 points.
2009-10 NBA Season - Eastern Conference Semifinals
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics 2-4
Stats: 29.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 7.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.8 BPG
The Cavaliers clinched the league’s best record for a second straight year by winning 61 games. James also won the MVP Award for the second year in a row too. However, the season saw the Cavaliers come up short of the NBA Finals again. After defeating the Chicago Bulls in the first round, it set up another matchup with the Celtics and the Big 3.
After winning Game 1, the Celtics blew out the Cavaliers in Game 2. Cleveland took a 2-1 series lead with 38 points from James in Game 3. However, Boston took the next three games. James was limited to 22 points in Game 5 and was outscored by Shaquille O’Neal in Game 5 on his team. In the clincher, James recorded 27 points and 19 rebounds in what would be his final game with Cleveland in his first stint.
2010-11 NBA Season - NBA Finals
Result: Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks 2-4
Stats: 23.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.2 BPG
In the offseason, James decided to leave Cleveland for the Miami Heat to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Before the season began, James made headlines by saying the team would win seven championships together. With championship expectations, the Heat won 58 games in the regular season but finished behind the Bulls in the standings.
In the first round, the Heat took care of the 76ers and then the Celtics in the following round. In the Conference Finals, the Heat defeated the Bulls in five games to set up a date with the Mavericks. In a surprising finish, the Mavericks defeated the Heat with Dirk Nowitzki claiming Finals MVP.
2011-12 NBA Season - NBA Champion
Result: Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1
Stats: 30.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 5.6 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG
The Heat won 46 games in the shortened season and finished runner-up to the Bulls for a second straight year. In the first round, the Heat defeated the Knicks in five games and followed that with a six-game victory over the Pacers in the second round. In the final run of the Big 3 and Boston, the series went to seven games. Boston led the series 3-2 at one point but defeated the Celtics 98-79 with 45 points from James and then 31 points from James in Game 7.
The NBA Finals saw the Heat meet a young Thunder squad full of stars. After dropping game 1, James led the Heat in scoring four straight games to lead a string of four straight victories. James claimed Finals MVP after winning his first championship.
2012-13 NBA Season - NBA Champion
Result: Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs 4-3
Stats: 25.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG
The Heat was by far the best team in the league with 66 wins and a No. 1 seed. The Heat also became the first team since the Chicago Bulls in 1998 to three-peat as the Eastern Conference champions. After a four-game sweep in the first round over the Bucks, the Heat then defeated the Bulls in five games. That set up a hard-fought matchup with the Pacers. Neither team won two games in a row, but Miami overcame Paul George, David West, and Lance Stephenson to win in seven games.
In the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs nearly took the series. With a 3-2 series lead, a late three-pointer by Ray Allen sent Game 6 to overtime. James finished the game with 32 points before the Heat won 103-100. Then in Game 7, James scored 37 points to lead Miami to a Game 7 win. James won his second straight Finals MVP.
2013-14 NBA Season - NBA Finals
Result: Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs 1-4
Stats: 27.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.6 BPG
The Heat won their fewest regular-season games together in a full season but was good enough to make their fourth straight Finals together. The playoffs opened with a four-game sweep over the Hornets. That was followed by a series win over the Brooklyn Nets in five games. That set up a rematch with the Pacers.
The Pacers took the Heat to six games but came up short as it set up another rematch with the Spurs. This time, the Spurs overcame five solid games from James to defeat the Heat in five games. This would be James’ final season with the Heat after winning two titles.
2014-15 NBA Season - NBA Finals
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors 2-4
Stats: 30.1 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 8.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG
In a stunning move, James returned to Cleveland with the hope of bringing a title to town. The Cavaliers traded for Kevin Love and had a young Kyrie Irving developing into an All-Star. The Cavaliers won 53 games after a four-year tenure at the bottom of the standings. With James in town, the team was back to be a contender
The Cavaliers swept the Celtics in the first round and then defeated the Bulls in six games after trailing 2-1. The Hawks won the No. 1 seed in the regular season, but the Cavaliers swept the Hawks in four games. In the Finals, the Cavaliers held a 2-1 lead over the Warriors, but the Warriors took the next three games. That included a Game 5 loss where James scored 40 points, as well as a 32-point effort in Game 6.
2015-16 NBA Season - NBA Champion
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors 4-3
Stats: 26.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 7.6 APG, 2.3 SPG, 1.3 BPG
The dream came true this season. It came with a ton of adversity. It featured the Cavaliers firing David Blatt and promoting Tyron Lue. The Cavaliers swept their first two opponents in the Pistons and the Hawks. That set up a six-game series against the Raptors before having a rematch with the Warriors in the Finals.
The Warriors, who had won an NBA-record 73 games in the regular season, held a 3-1 series lead but blew it. Both Irving and James scored 41 points to lead Cleveland to a Game 5 win. Then in Game 6, James scored 41 points again in a win. In the final game, it featured the James block on Andre Iguodala, the clutch three-pointer by Irving, and with the 93-89 win it brought Cleveland its first title with James winning Finals MVP as he cried tears of joy on the court.
2016-17 NBA Season - NBA Finals
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors 1-4
Stats: 32.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG< 7.8 APG, 1.9 SPG, 1.3 BPG
After becoming the first team in Finals history to come back from a 3-1 deficit, the Cavaliers ran it back by making the Finals. The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers in four games in the first round and then swept the Raptors in the second round. In the Conference Finals, James met the Celtics again but took care of the younger squad in five games.
It was the third straight year the Cavaliers and Warriors met in the Finals. This time it was a different Warriors squad, who picked up Kevin Durant in the offseason. With Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green, the Cavaliers were overmatched. Durant won Finals MVP and then Irving was traded in the offseason. With that said, James did everything he could averaging 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 10.0 assists in those five games.
2017-18 NBA Season - NBA Finals
Result: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors 0-4
Stats: 34.0 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 9.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.0 BPG
It was the first full season without Irving. It brought flashbacks to when James led the Cavaliers in 2007. The Cavaliers were undermanned by good enough with their leader in James to make it back to the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers finished the season as the fourth seed and beat the Pacers in the first round in seven games, which included a 45-point, nine rebounds, and seven assist efforts in Game 7. In the second round, the Cavaliers beat the top-seeded Raptors, which led to the firing of Coach of the Year Dwane Casey.
In the Conference Finals, the Cavaliers beat the Celtics again. The series went to seven games and the Cavaliers won Game 7 despite playing without Love. It was the eighth straight year James made the Finals, but this would be a short showing. The Warriors swept the Cavaliers and Durant won his second straight Finals MVP.
2018-19 NBA Season - Did Not Appear
In the offseason, James left the Cavaliers for the Lakers, who had hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since 2013. However, the young core of Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram was not enough as the Lakers finished with a losing record and the No. 10 seed. It was the first time since 2005 that James missed the playoffs.
The offseason saw a lot of change. The Lakers traded for Anthony Davis. Magic Johnson stepped down as president of basketball operations while heading Luke Walton also left. The team hired Frank Vogel and it led to a magical year the next season.
2019-20 NBA Season - NBA Champion
Result: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat 4-2
Stats: 27.6 PPG, 10.8 RPG, APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG
With Davis and Vogel with the Lakers, the team transitioned towards being one of the best defensive teams in the league. James was a point forward and led the league in assists. The Lakers owned the third-best defensive rating in the league, won 52 games, and finished with the best record in the Western Conference. The playoffs saw the Lakers make easy work of the Trail Blazers in the first round and the Rockets in the second round.
The Conference Finals saw the Lakers play the Nuggets. James scored 30 points in Game 3 and 38 points in Game 5, while Davis led the team in the other three games. James played his old team Miami in the Finals. James scored 40 points in a Game 5 loss but led the team in scoring five of the six games. The win gave the Lakers nation something to be happy about after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. It also saw James win his fourth title with his third team, which also included the fourth Finals MVP trophy of his career.
2020-21 NBA Season - Western Conference First Round
Result: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns 2-4
Stats: 23.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 8.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Injuries hampered the Lakers. Davis suffered a calf injury that sidelined him for 30 games. James missed 26 of the team’s final 30 games with a sprained ankle. The Lakers were 35-23 at the time and then went 14-16 without him. The Lakers managed a 42-30 record, which tied the Mavericks and TrailBlazers, but the team lost the tiebreaker to finish with the seven seed.
It was the first time that James made the playoffs and he didn’t have a home-court advantage. The Lakers held a 2-1 advantage on the Suns, but Davis suffered an injury in Game 4. The Lakers were then eliminated in six games. It was the first time a defending NBA champion was eliminated in the first round since the Spurs in 2015.
2021-22 NBA Season - Did Not Appear
In the offseason, the Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook to form a big three. It led to the odds claiming that the Nets and Lakers were destined to meet in the NBA Finals. The season would end up being a disaster as the oldest team in the league finished with their worst record since 2015-2016. The team finished 33-49 and was one game behind the Spurs for the last spot in the play-in tournament.
James would finish the season with his best points per game average since 2005-06. With that said, the Lakers were unable to stay healthy. The trio of James, Westbrook, and Davis played just a little over 20 games together. Altogether, the Lakers used 41 different starting lineups. With age and injury, the Lakers missed the playoffs, which would be the fourth time in James’ career.
Overall Playoff Resume
10 NBA Finals, 4 NBA Championships
Stats: 28.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 7.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG (266 Games)
James has played 266 playoff games and owns 174 wins. He is the only active player in the top-10 all-time for playoff wins, while his 65.4% winning percentage in the playoffs is the highest of any player in the top-10. James owns the most points in the playoffs by nearly 2,000 points over Michael Jordan. He is the only player with over 10,000 career minutes in the playoffs and owns the most field goals.
Among other stats, James is sixth in rebounds, second in assists, and is the all-time leader in steals. With his four Finals MVPs, he owns the second-most trailing only Jordan’s six. He owns 10 appearances in the Finals with a 4-6 record. Altogether, many believe James is the best or the second-best player in NBA history. In the end, his resume makes a case for either side of the argument.