LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan playoff sweeps: Comparing how many times NBA GOATs been swept

LeBron James, Tim Duncan 05222023

LeBron James and the Lakers were defeated by the Nuggets in the 2023 Western Conference Finals.

Of course, whenever something significant happens in James’ career, the discourse eventually leads back to the GOAT debate with Michael Jordan.

Fans looking to get a head start on their GOAT debates over the next few days may be wondering how many times both James and Jordan have been eliminated from the playoffs.

The Sporting News takes a closer look at one instance where the big-timers failed to win a game in a playoff series.

MORE: Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: The top stats you need to know in the GOAT debate

LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan playoff sweeps

Below are all the details of each series along with their stats. But here’s a quick snap comparing the two.

Time win in the playoffs

JamesJordan
In total32
Best of 502
Best of 730
First round02
Conf semifinals00
conf final10
NBA Finals20

How many times has LeBron James been defeated in the NBA playoffs?

This is the third time in his career James has failed in the playoffs.

An important note: This is the first time he has been defeated before the NBA Finals.

The other two cases were the 2007 NBA Finals against the Spurs and the 2018 NBA Finals against the Warriors — two of the greatest dynasties in NBA history.

LeBron James, Tim Duncan 05222023

2007 NBA Finals vs. Spurs

  • seed: 2
  • opponent set: 3
  • Teammate with the highest score: Drew Gooden (12.8)

In the second playoff run of his career, James led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. The Spurs dynasty awaited him for his first final appearance, driven by the Big Three Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

James and the inexperienced Cavaliers battled with an experienced San Antonio squad, but they just couldn’t keep up. James missed a potentially game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in Game 3 and was 3-0 down, then Cleveland lost by a single point in Game 4 (after Damon Jones fired a 3-pointer from a deficit in the last second made of four points).

James finished the game with averages of 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.0 steals per game, but he shot 35.6 percent from the field and 20.0 percent from 3.

It became clear that James would reach the NBA Finals many more times in his career during that playoff run, but it only took the Spurs four games to settle the deal.

NBA Finals 2018 vs. Warriors

  • seed: 4
  • opponent set: 2
  • Teammate with the highest score: Kevin Love (19.0)

James and the Warriors had met three times in the NBA Finals prior to 2018. When they met for the fourth straight season in 2018, James and the Cavaliers failed to win a game.

James had one of the best playoff games of his career in Game 1, recording 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a heartbreaking overtime loss.

Cleveland missed an opportunity to set the tone in the series, losing Game 2 by 19 points, Game 3 by eight points, and Game 4 by 23 points.

James was still averaging 34.0 points, 10.0 assists, 8.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, but he didn’t have enough firepower to compete with the Golden State superstars.

2023 Western Conference Finals vs. Nuggets

  • seed: 7
  • opponent set: 1
  • Teammate with the highest score: Anthony Davis (26.8)

James and the Lakers were clearly outperformed by the West’s number 1 and lost in four games to Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Co.

MORE: LeBron’s Full Story in Conference Finals

James still averaged nearly a triple-double and averaged 27.8 points, 10.0 assists, 9.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks in four games. However, he shot a miserable 26.9 percent from 3-point range in the series.

How many times has Michael Jordan been defeated in the NBA playoffs?

Jordan was eliminated from the playoffs twice in his career, but that comes with a caveat. Both sweeps took place in the first round in best-of-5. Admittedly, James never had the opportunity to prevail in a best-of-5 match as the first round changed format before his rookie season.

He was defeated by the Celtics in 1986 and 1987, but back then the first round of the NBA playoffs was a best-of-five.

1986 First Round vs Celtics

  • seed: 8th
  • opponent set: 1
  • Teammate with the highest score: Orlando Woolridge (21.0)

Three games into the 1985-86 season, Jordan suffered a fractured foot, missing all but 18 games of his sophomore NBA season.

He returned a month before the end of the season, looking to get back in shape for the playoffs. When the Bulls met the No. 1 seeded Celtics in the first round, it would be an uphill battle for the 23-year-old, who had recovered from a serious injury.

Jordan did everything he could for Chicago, but it wasn’t enough to defeat Boston’s Big Three of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.

He scored 49 points in Game 1 and 63 points in Game 2 — a single-game playoff record that still stands today — but the Bulls still lost both contests before losing to the eventual NBA champions in three games.

1987 First Round vs Celtics

  • seed: 8th
  • opponent set: 1
  • Teammate with the highest score: Charles Oakley (20.0)

The following season, Jordan and the Bulls again faced the Celtics in the first round. Jordan was a different beast in the 1986-87 season, averaging 37.1 points per game.

Still, he and Chicago couldn’t keep up with the Celtics dynasty.

Jordan recorded a staggering 35.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.3 blocks, and 2.0 steals per game averages, but Boston once again pulled off a clean three-game win.

The Celtics represented the East in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season, but missed out on winning the title after losing to the Lakers in six games.

Dave Gallo

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