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Which Superstar Had The Worst Playoff Series: 2022 Kevin Durant Against Celtics vs. 2011 LeBron James Against Mavericks

Which Superstar Had The Worst Playoff Series: 2022 Kevin Durant Against Celtics vs. 2011 LeBron James Against Mavericks

Kevin Durant ended the 2022 season by dropping 39 inefficient points in game four of the first round, attempting to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Celtics by jacking up 31 field goal attempts and making only 13 of them. KD failed. Boston edged Durant and the Nets 116 to 112, helping Brooklyn cap off one of the most disappointing seasons in NBA history with one of the most disappointing superstar performances in playoff history.

LeBron James famously (or is it infamously?) “took his talents to South Beach,” teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. LBJ tore through the league during 2010-11 on his way to the finals in his inaugural season in Florida. Then LBJ ended the postseason with one of the most confusing and joyless six-game stretches by a superstar ever witnessed in the NBA, allowing the Mavs to hang their first banner as he passively looked on.

KD belly flopped during the 2022 first round, and LBJ had a nightmare finals appearance in 2011, which begs the question: Which superstar had the more dramatic meltdown?

Below we’ll break down Kevin Durant’s 2022 first round disappointment with LeBron James’s 2011 finals tragedy to determine which superstar suffered the more significant playoff collapse.


Points

Kevin Durant: 26.3 PPG

LeBron James: 17.8 PPG

KD found barely any room to breathe throughout the first three games of the Nets First Round series against the Celtics. Every time he held the ball, a long armed and athletic defender crowded him, getting into his space and making things uncomfortable. KD is supposed to be a cheat code, a 6-10 power forward with a 7-5 wingspan who has shooting guard handles and one of the highest releases in the league. KD is supposed to make long-armed and athletic defenders irrelevant. But he didn’t. Durant averaged 22.0 points per game during the first three games of the First Round against the Celtics as his Nets went down 0-3. KD bounced back in Brooklyn’s final game, netting 39 points in an attempt to avoid a sweep in front of his hometown fans in favor of a gentleman’s sweep on the road. Unless you believe the 44-38 Nets minus Ben Simmons, their 6-11 top-5 defensive ace, were capable of becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from an 0-3 deficit, Durant’s game four performance was essentially a garbage time romp. Kevin Durant averaged 26.3 PPG during his First Round meltdown against the Celtics, but he only managed 22.0 PPG when it mattered.

LeBron James was at the height of his powers during 2010-11, rampaging the league with his size, length, athleticism, and basketball I.Q., averaging an easy 26.7 PPG during the regular season. LBJ continued his mastery of the association in the NBA’s second season, dropping 24.2 PPG in the first round against the 76ers, 28.0 PPG in the semifinals against the Celtics, and 25.8 PPG in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bulls. And then the Finals happened. LeBron James averaged 17.8 PPG against a Dallas Mavericks squad that finished 8th in the league in Defensive Rating and featured only one above-average wing defender, Shawn Marion. Dallas didn’t throw the kitchen sink at LBJ, wary of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They mostly left Marion on an island against the potential GOAT, and instead of doing GOAT things, like scoring, he merely swung the ball to his teammates and looked on, a passive observer. James finished one of the most puzzling playoff series in recent memory by putting up only 90 total shot attempts, below his teammates, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, on his way to a 17.8 PPG average during the finals.


Rebounds

Kevin Durant: 5.8 RPG

LeBron James: 7.2 RPG

Kevin Durant isn’t known as an excellent rebounder. Still, he has a 7.8 career rebounding average, and he topped out last season at 9.3 boards per contest for the Nets. KD was primarily passive on the boards during Brooklyn’s first round drubbing against the Celtics, pulling down only 5.8 rebounds per contest. It would have been nice to see Durant attack the glass harder, especially considering he was often the tallest player on the floor for the Nets during a series in which Boston nabbed 44 crucial total offensive rebounds. The Nets lost a pivotal game by a single point as KD notched only four rebounds versus the Celtics’ 14 offensive boards. If KD had gotten more aggressive on the boards and secured, let’s say, eight rebounds in game one, limiting Boston to only ten offensive boards, perhaps the Nets would have pulled out the game. Perhaps the Celtics would have flinched after going down 0-1. Perhaps the Nets would still be playing right now.

LeBron James is one of the most effective non-center rebounders of all time. He has averaged 7.5 rebounds per game throughout his career and was right on par with his norm during the 2011 playoffs against the Mavs, pulling down 7.2 boards per contest. The Heat out-rebounded the Mavs in the finals, 231 total rebounds to 226 total rebounds. LeBron’s rebounding was nothing special, but nobody expected him to morph into the second coming of Dennis Rodman against the Mavs in the penultimate round of the playoffs.


Assists

Kevin Durant: 6.3 APG

LeBron James: 6.8 APG

Kevin Durant has been known mainly as a scorer throughout his 11 years in the NBA, which is mostly fair considering he has averaged 4.1 assists during his career. KD upped his playmaking chops noticeably this season, and after he came back from injury on March 3, he suddenly transformed into a passing phenom.

Here’s a breakdown of KD’s passing numbers after the All-Star break:

18.7 assist points created, 12th in the NBA

12.6 potential assists, 16th in the NBA

7.6 assists, 11th in the NBA

Kevin Durant averaged 15.5 assist points created in the first round of the playoffs, an excellent figure seeing as the Celtics played octopus defense against the Nets, a swirling mass of tentacles that were locked into KD and his teammates.

LeBron James is one of the most talented playmakers of his generation, a passing savant who often seems as if he’s six moves ahead of the opposition like a grandmaster playing chess against, well, me. That’s what makes James’s finals passing performance so disturbing. If he didn’t want to take over by scoring, he could have pressured the Mavs with his exceptional drive and kick game, setting up his teammates with easy looks on the perimeter. He didn’t, though. Instead, he mostly swung the ball to Dwyane Wade and watched as his partner in crime worked one-on-one. The entire complexion of the finals who have changed if James had averaged double-figure assists.


Steals

Kevin Durant: 1.0 SPG

LeBron James: 1.7 SPG

Kevin Durant entered the league with a bamboo shoot frame and played the type of defense you’d expect from an outmatched kid; bowling pin versus bowling ball. But KD is a massive gym rat who hit the weights tirelessly and gained enough muscle to become a plus-defender, a player capable of guarding the perimeter, block, and rim. KD’s defensive progress was nullified in the 2022 playoffs. Not only did he have little to no impact on the game by racking up steals (1.0) and deflections (1.8), but Jayson Tatum abused him throughout the postseason. Per NBA.com’s matchup tool, Kevin Durant was assigned to Jayson Tatum for 82.3 possessions on defense, allowing him to shoot 50.0% from deep and 47.4 overall from the field as he created 89 total team points. KD had to do more on the less fun end for his “offensive-oriented” Brooklyn squad to get enough stops to win.

Dirk Nowitzki blitzed the Western Conference in 2011 on his way to the finals, shooting 44.4% from deep in the first round against the Trail Blazers and then 72.7% from deep (yes, you read that correctly) in the second round against the Lakers before dropping 32.2 PPG on 55.7% from the field in the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder. Dirk Nowitzki managed only 26.0 PPG on a 41.6% clip from the field in the finals against the Heat, and while head coach Erik Spoelstra used several players to help contain the Mavs superstar, LeBron James had a direct hand in lowering his impact. James mixed in excellent individual defense against Nowitzki with a solid 1.7 steals per game, helping the Heat get out on the break. Overall, James ended the finals with a 110 DEFRTG, an excellent mark when taking into account how hot the Mavs and Nowitzki had been throughout the postseason.


Turnovers

Kevin Durant: 5.3 TOV

LeBron James: 4.0 TOV

Kevin Durant has been one of the most tightfisted superstars in the league throughout his career, coughing the ball up only 3.2 times per game. The 2021-22 season saw a change in KD’s role on the court. Kyrie Irving, the Nets’ leading ball handler, missed the first 35 games of the season due to his vaccination stance and ultimately appeared in only 29 games. Durant was forced to take over more of the playmaking duties, yet he only saw a tiny uptick in his turnover numbers at 3.5 per game. Simply put: Durant was an exceptional offensive force during the regular season, setting up his teammates with pinpoint passes while rarely making a mistake with the ball in his hands. Then in the playoffs, with Kyrie Irving back in the fold as a full-time player, KD handed over the ball to the Celtics 5.3 times per contest. Boston featured the number one defense in the league, but surrendering the rock over five times per game is too much.

LeBron James has averaged 3.7 turnovers per game during the playoffs throughout his career, an excellent mark for any primary ball-handler with a usage rate north of 30%.

Compare James’s career playoff turnover average versus today’s most talented playmakers:

Ja Morant: 3.7 turnovers per game in the postseason

Trae Young: 4.5 turnovers per game in the postseason

Luka Doncic: 4.7 turnovers per game in the postseason

The only playmaker who truly exceeds LBJ in the playoffs is Chris Paul, the Point God himself, who only turns the ball over 2.6 times per game in the postseason. But CP3 only has a 25.4% usage rate in the postseason, which helps lower his mistakes.

LeBron James averaged 4.0 turnovers per game in the finals versus the Mavericks, a number that isn’t particularly impressive but is perfectly standard for a player who lives with the ball in his hands.


Field Goal Percentage

Kevin Durant: 38.6% FG

LeBron James: 47.8% FG

The Boston Celtics obliterated teams on the less fun end after the All-Star break. Jayson Tatum led the league in Defensive Win Shares at 4.6 for the season, Marcus Smart won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, Robert Williams is a fast-twitch nightmare from the center position, and Jaylen Brown is a top-10 defensive wing. Still, what’s the point of having a maxed-out superstar if said maxed-out superstar can’t manufacture his own points in the playoffs against a top-rated defense? KD’s 38.6% field goal percentage was unacceptable, a smelly fart in a packed movie theater that everyone wants to forget, but can’t, because it lingers in their noses, ruining the long-awaited opening of Dune.

LeBron James shot a solid 47.8% from the field during the 2011 finals against the Mavs. He didn’t seem to have any problem playing his typical brand of bully ball, yet he didn’t take over when his team needed him most, confounding the basketball world with his inactivity. What’s worse, shooting 38.6% from the field off 20.8 attempts like KD, or having the capacity to bring home a title and simply not going for it? We don’t know what inner conundrums LBJ was struggling with during the finals. Professional basketball players are real human beings with real emotions. The pressure of the season could have finally collapsed him from the inside, or he could have been suffering from some severe personal problems. With that said, we know James plays for championships, and his lack of aggression was one of the deciding factors in the Heat’s finals loss to a less talented Dallas squad.


Three-Point Percentage

Kevin Durant: 33.3% 3PT

LeBron James: 32.1% 3PT

KD is one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. He shot well above 50% from the basket out to the arc in 2021-22, a terror across all levels of the court while also hitting 38.3% of his long distance. KD only connected on 33.3% of his three-point shots in the playoffs, a slight decrease from his regular season mark. We expect superstars’ offensive heroics to increase in the postseason when they are needed most, not to regress. Still, the Celtics did an excellent job of swarming Durant from distance, allowing him only three total wide open (no defender within six feet) three-pointers and five total open (a defender within 4-6 feet) looks from distance. KD could have shot better, but the Celtics made life difficult for him.

LeBron James shot 32.1% from deep in the finals, a number in line with his 33.0% hit rate during the 2010-11 regular season. LBJ has grown into a solid high-volume three-point shooter during his later years with the Lakers, but he wasn’t a long distance threat during his prime when he suited up for the Heat. If LBJ had clanked his way toward a 20% figure from deep in the finals, you could roast him, but his 32.1% mark is what you’d expect from him.


Which Opponent Was Tougher: The Celtics Or The Mavericks?

The Celtics are competing at an incredibly high level. They ended the regular season with a 17-5 record and the top defense in the league. They feature a group of long-armed and athletic defenders who play stellar team defense. However, the Mavericks put on one of the most incredible postseason displays in NBA history, playing tornado defense like they were taking adrenaline shots to the heart before each postseason game and swishing the nets from deep at a ridiculously high clip. It’s still early in the 2022 playoffs. If the Celtics win the title in convincing fashion, we’ll have to come back and re-address this question, but for now, the Mavericks were easily the more formidable opponent.


Who Had The More Disappointing Series?

In many ways, the Nets were condemned from the start. Their All-Star point guard missed nearly the entire first half of the season while Joe Harris, the most prolific outside threat in the Eastern Conference, only suited up for the first 14 games. James Harden slumped and asked out, and KD missed a substantial chunk of the year with a knee injury. Brooklyn never had a chance to form the type of championship chemistry necessary to make a deep playoff run. KD struggled against the Celtics’ ferocious defense, but next to no one predicted the Nets would come out victorious against a streaking Boston team.

LeBron James and the Heat, meanwhile, played through an injury-free year, building chemistry along the way. James, Wade, and Bosh entered the finals as heavy favorites and lost badly as their superstar looked lost and helpless. James is one of the greatest of all time, but the other legendary wings of the last 30 years, Jordan, Kobe, McGrady, hell, even Manu Ginobili, would have never sat by idly as their squad went down in flames during the finals while only dropping 17.8 PPG.

LeBron James averaged more rebounds, assists, and steals with less turnovers and a higher field goal percentage than Durant. However, their numbers were similar, and LeBron James was set up perfectly to win his first title. He froze on the biggest stage.

LeBron James had the more disappointing series, and it isn’t close.

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