King Of The Closeout Game

05/25/2017 at 10:05am

By Brian Martin

After the Cavaliers rallied to win Tuesday’s Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, the question on everyone’s minds has been: Will the Cavaliers close out the Celtics in Game 5 to advanced to their third straight NBA Finals?

History says yes.

We hear it year after year in interviews with players and coaches, that the closeout game is the hardest win to get. Well, for LeBron James, his teams actually have a higher winning percentage in closeout games than they do in overall playoff games.

Let’s dig into the numbers.

The Cavaliers are 9-0 in closeout games since LeBron returned to the team in 2014. That includes six of LeBron’s NBA record 11 career playoff sweeps.

LeBron was 8-5 in closeouts during his first stint in Cleveland and followed that up with a 14-4 mark in closeouts during his four-year run in Miami.

That’s a 31-9 record in closeout games. And a 0.775 win percentage.

To put that number into perspective, here are the closeout game records from a few other all-time greats that have played in at least five NBA Finals and 40 closeout games in their playoff careers.

Closeout Game Records

In his 220 career playoff games, LeBron has a 142-69 record for a win percentage of 0.673 – more than 10 percent lower than his win percentage in closeout games.

The three legends that we just compared LeBron with have also won at a higher rate in closeout games compared to their overall playoff career – but none have a bigger leap than LeBron.

Career Playoff Records

While we do not have plus/minus data for Jordan, we do for both Bryant (+214 in 48 games) and Duncan (+236 in 49 games), who both trail LeBron (+287 in 40 games) when it comes to closeout games.

Closeout Game Stats Comparison

Thursday’s game will be the 12th time that a LeBron James team has held a 3-1 lead in a playoff series. They have gone on to win the series each of the first 11 times.

However, the series-clinching win hasn’t always come in Game 5. In fact, LeBron teams are 7-4 in Game 5 when holding a 3-1 series lead. But they followed up each of those four losses by closing out the series the very next game. No LeBron team that has been up 3-1 has ever had to face a Game 7 let alone lose a series.

Throughout his career, LeBron has found a way to close out series quickly as to not give his opponents hope that they can come back and swing the momentum of the series in their favor.

Of his 31 closeout wins, 25 of them have come on the first attempt; with the other six coming on the second try. LeBron has lost only two series in his career in which his team had a chance to close the series and failed. Both came during his first run with the Cavaliers.

In his first playoff appearance in 2006, the Cavaliers led the Pistons in the East Semis 3-2 before losing Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road to end their playoff run.

Two years later, in LeBron’s third playoff appearance, the Cavs trailed the Celtics 3-2 in the East Finals and won Game 6 at home to force a Game 7 back in Boston. While LeBron won an epic scoring duel with Paul Pierce, 45-41, it was the Celtics that prevailed and eliminated the Cavs to advance to the 2008 Finals, where they won their 17th NBA championship.

It has been nine years since a LeBron James team has lost a playoff series in which they had a closeout game. That covers 26 series. Of course, LeBron has lost playoff series over that span – we can dig into his numbers in elimination games at another time.

But heading into Thursday, LeBron and the Cavs will look to close out another series and return to the NBA Finals.