LeBron James and Kevin Durant have met in three different NBA Finals series over the past decade. Their rivalry and combined dominance of the game have created one of the best storylines in recent basketball memory, and with KD ready to return with the Nets this coming season, it could be far from over. But how have the two stacked up in their Finals face-offs by the numbers?
Looking at the two stars’ careers in totality, LeBron has Durant beat in most areas – four championships to Durant’s two, four MVPs to his one, more All-Star and All-NBA selections, and more All-Defensive selections (KD has never made All-Defense). Of course, some of those leads are aided by LeBron’s longer tenure in the league. The only notable area where Durant beats LeBron significantly is in his scoring titles – four to James’s one.
Most of that though is well documented. It’s understood that LeBron has had a more prestigious and awarded career, while Durant’s superstardom hails largely from his insane scoring ability. But what about when the two have faced off directly on the NBA’s biggest stage? How has each star performed against the other in the Finals? Let’s get to it.
2012 NBA Finals: Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant
LeBron James: 28.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 44.1 MPG, 47.2% shooting
Kevin Durant: 30.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 42.6 MPG, 54.8% shooting
Result: Heat win 4-1
LeBron and Durant’s first Finals showdown was a battle of experience as much as anything. Miami had a stacked superteam in its collective prime, while OKC was led by the young trio of Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden (coming off the bench). All three of those players would go on to claim MVPs in their careers, but it was too little too soon in 2012.
In most areas, LeBron had KD beat. He averaged a double-double for the series while tallying an additional 7.4 assists and played more minutes than anyone else on either team. The one area where Durant led was in scoring, unsurprisingly. He averaged just two more points than LeBron but at a markedly better shooting percentage, while also making just under 40 percent of his threes. All in all, it was a respectable showing by Durant and the Thunder, but it wasn’t enough to stop LeBron from claiming his first title.
2017 NBA Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant
LeBron James: 33.6 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 10.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 42.4 MPG, 56.4% shooting
Kevin Durant: 35.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 39.7 MPG, 55.6% shooting
Result: Warriors win 4-1
In many ways, 2017 looked like an inverted 2012. Now it was Durant on the superteam, and Durant who won Finals MVP after claiming a 4-1 victory. In other ways, however, the two Finals were very much the same. LeBron once again excelled in every aspect, averaging a triple-double and more than 33 points per game while shooting over 56 percent. And like in 2012, Durant dominated in scoring.
But the 2017 championship was absurd even by Durant’s standards. He averaged over 35 points in less than 40 minutes per game, with 47 percent of his threes landing and a staggering true shooting percentage of just under 70 percent. But he didn’t stop there. Durant’s other numbers, while generally lower than James’s, were outstanding as well. He recorded eight blocks in the series and just 11 turnovers. James, by contrast, turned the ball over 21 times.
Did Golden State have a better team? Absolutely. There’s no debate on that point, as there was no debate throughout the entire 2016-17 season. But KD didn’t just give them the piece they needed to win. In the Finals, he was the greatest player on an exceptional team by a huge margin, unequivocally earning his first Finals MVP along with his first ring.
2018 NBA Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant
LeBron James: 34.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 10.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 44.7 MPG, 52.7% shooting
Kevin Durant: 28.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 7.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 2.3 BPG, 41.3 MPG, 52.6% shooting
Result: Warriors win 4-0
The 2018 NBA Finals are a little trickier simply because they were clearly the least balanced matchup of the three LeBron/Durant showdowns. Cleveland nearly took a Game 1 victory under LeBron’s 51 points and Kevin Love’s 13 rebounds, but the infamous J. R. Smith foul-up led to a Warriors massacre in overtime. Love played well through the rest of the series, but it wasn’t nearly enough help for James to contest Golden State, who swept the series in four games.
By the numbers, 2018 was also notably different for the teams’ two leading stars. Durant saw a drop in scoring volume and efficiency from the year before, but he did significantly better in nearly every other area, averaging a double-double, 7.5 assists, and more than two blocks per game. He claimed the Finals MVP for the second year in a row, this time for a more well-rounded but equally stellar performance.
LeBron’s shooting percentage was nearly identical to Durant’s for the series, but he outscored the Slim Reaper for the first time in their Finals duels with 34 points per game. LeBron averaged just under 45 minutes per game through the sweep – more than any other player on the floor – but it just wasn’t enough. James remained spectacular, but he couldn’t do it all against such a stacked squad.
LeBron James: 5 wins, 31.9 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 9.1 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 43.7 MPG, 52.2% shooting
Kevin Durant: 9 wins, 31.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 41.2 MPG, 54.5% shooting
Overall, LeBron and Durant’s stats in their three Finals together are pretty comparable, but James’s numbers edge out KD’s overall. The biggest discrepancy, as you would expect, is LeBron’s 9.1 assists to Durant’s 4.9. He nearly averaged a triple-double through their showdowns and just barely outscored Durant on average – though largely because of Cleveland’s lack of offensive options in 2018.
On the winning side, however, KD is firmly in the lead, with nine wins of the fourteen games to LeBron’s five, and two championships to LeBron’s one. That’s impressive to be sure, but it’s more a result of the team matchups than the individual players. James’s time in Miami and Durant’s with Golden State are similar in many ways, but the two met more in the Finals during Durant’s superteam years. The 2012 Heat vs. the 2017 Warriors is a showdown we’ll sadly never get, but it would surely be one for the ages.
With the Lakers still looking dominant in the Western Conference and the Net’s potentially set to sweep through the East, basketball fans may not have seen their last LeBron/Durant NBA Finals.