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LeBron James, NBA Finals, Lakers, Cavs, Heat

10 Toughest Players LeBron James Faced In The NBA Finals, Ranked

LeBron James is officially on top of the league once again, after he helped his Los Angeles Lakers defeat a determined Miami Heat team in six games in the NBA Finals. There is no question that James winning a NBA championship with the Lakers only cements him as one of the greatest players to ever set foot in the league.

With James winning a championship yet again, the Lakers star has succeeded in four out of 10 NBA Finals trips. Taking a team to the NBA Finals on 10 occasions, and for eight consecutive seasons at that, is no easy feat. This only shows how dominant James is. However, James’ success rate in the Finals is quite low and partially the cause of that is the stiff competition and rival players that he had to face.

For this piece, let’s update and rank the top 10 toughest individual rivalries LeBron James had to face in the NBA Finals.

Honorable Mention

Some players that barely made this list are Manu Ginobili who played for the Spurs against James on three NBA Finals editions and Russell Westbrook, who played for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals.

10. Draymond Green

NBA Finals vs. LeBron James: 2015-2018 Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors are a feared team in the league and was no question a thorn in LeBron’s NBA Finals stints. A part of that is because of Draymond Green. The Warriors forward may not have the elite shooting of his teammates in Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, but he possessed a polished all-around game and the ability to lockdown multiple positions.

There is no question that Green was one of the toughest players that James faced in the Finals, as the Warriors forward did all he can to limit James’ production. The most memorable moment these two star players had together was an altercation in Game 4 that led to James stepping over Green, which aggravated the latter that led to his suspension in the 2016 NBA Finals.

Although Green managed to win three of the four times they met in the Finals, his absence in Game 5 of the 2016 edition was enough to give James and the Cavs momentum to successfully make a historic comeback from a 1-3 series deficit, which gave James his lone series win against the Warriors and his third overall NBA championship.

Nevertheless, Green is no question one of the players James doesn’t really want to face in the NBA Finals. With his defensive presence on the court, the King admitted he makes the Warriors a great defensive unit.

In 2018, James said in an interview “Draymond is a catalyst and the anchor of their defense. Very, very smart defensively. He knows pretty much every set. He kind of flies around and dictates their defense, either on the perimeter or protecting the rim as well.”

Because of his defensive prowess, Green ranks 10th in this LeBron James, NBA Finals list.

9. Andre Iguodala

NBA Finals vs. LeBron James: 2015-2018 Golden State Warriors, 2020 Miami Heat

Aside from Draymond Green, another Warriors player who was tasked to defend James was Andre Iguodala. Although it caught everyone off guard when Iggy won the NBA Finals MVP award in 2015 as he was a reserve all season long, but there was no question that the veteran swingman was a defensive menace for LeBron James.

During the 2015 NBA Finals, Iguodala limited James on offense, as The King could only shoot at an inefficient clip of 33% with the former Warriors wingman guarding him. Throughout the Finals series, James was taking a lot of tough jumpers in isolation with the shot clock winding down, as Iggy forced him to.

Although Iguodala managed to get three championships over The King with the Warriors, LeBron James made a case that he was the better player when he made an iconic block on Iguodala during the crucial moments of Game 7 in the 2016 NBA Finals, which led to a Kyrie Irving go-ahead triple that sealed the Cavs’ historic comeback.

James and Iguodala would also rekindle their rivalry when the Lakers met the Heat during the recent 2020 NBA Finals. Although the Heat were hoping Iggy would slow down James once again, however, the Lakers star proved to be too much as James logged in 29.8 points on 59% shooting overall alongside 41.7% from deep which earned The King his fourth NBA championship and NBA Finals MVP trophy.

With these two butting heads in the last five of the six years, there is no question that Iguodala certainly gave James a hard time every time they met in the bright lights of the NBA Finals.

8. Klay Thompson

LeBron James, NBA Finals, Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals vs. LeBron James: 2015-2018 Golden State Warriors

Part of the Warriors’ success is Klay Thompson. The deadeye shooter is simply unmatched when it comes to accuracy and consistency from long range. Because of this, James and his Cavaliers teams were always on their toes, as they often hoped that Thompson’s long range bombs don’t find their way through the net.

Thompson has been a consistent third leading scorer throughout the Finals clashes against James, as he averaged at least 15 points per outing. Aside from James’ and Thompson’s battles on the court, their rivalry has at times even spilled off the court as they would take verbal jabs at each other during press conferences.

In their first Finals meeting, Thompson implicitly made a swipe at LBJ when he referred to Stephen Curry as the best player in the world after James proclaimed himself as such. In another occasion, Thompson told the media how James’ feelings were “hurt” after the heated altercation between Green and The King that saw the latter made a step over the former.

Nevertheless, Thompson can say he helped stopped James from winning three more NBA championships. However, James does have a laughing say after Thompson and the Warriors blew their 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. With the Warriors expected to return to the playoffs in 2021, there will surely be more battles to come between James and Thompson when the Lakers defend their NBA championship next season.

7. Jimmy Butler

LeBron James, NBA Finals, Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

NBA Finals vs. LeBron James: 2020 Miami Heat

When the Miami Heat faced LeBron and the Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals, it looked like the Lakers would easily blow out the Heat with injuries to Goran Dragić and Bam Adebayo. However, Jimmy Butler stepped up and defiantly extended the series to six games with his efficient scoring as he torched James and the Lakers in the midrange. Furthermore, his leadership and all-around game convinced everyone at some parts of the series that the Heat were capable of pulling the rug under the fire powered Lakers team.

In Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Butler put up 40 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists to prevent the Heat from falling to a 0-3 hole. With that herculean effort, Butler became just the third player in NBA Finals history to log in those numbers alongside Jerry West and no other than his rival in that series LeBron James. Aside from this, Butler had another big game in Game 5 when he and his team delayed the championship celebration of the Lakers as he logged in 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists becoming just the second player to have more than one 30-point triple double performance in the NBA Finals. Once again, the only other player to ever did that was LeBron James.

Sure, Butler and the Heat eventually conceded to the Lakers. However, there was no question that Butler was a triple double threat and a nightmare to defend in the midrange which certainly gave James and the Lakers a run for their money in the recent NBA Finals. There isn’t a lot of players that can match with James’ individual performance in the NBA Finals stage. With that, Butler places seventh in this list.

6. Tim Duncan

NBA Finals vs. LeBron James: 2007, 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs

Aside from the Golden State Warriors, another team that tormented LeBron James’ title quest is the San Antonio Spurs. There is no question that one of the players who made the Spurs a formidable team was Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.

The former Spurs big man was one of the crucial pieces for the Spurs that helped prevented James from wrecking havoc in the paint especially during the 2007 NBA Finals, after The King had a breakout series against the Detroit Pistons in the Easter Conference Finals.

Duncan was no doubt a double-double machine that LeBron had to face in the three occasions they met in the NBA Finals stage. Although James and the Heat defeated the Spurs in 2013 for James’ second straight NBA title, Duncan and the Spurs stopped James from winning two more NBA titles.

In the 2007 edition, Duncan helped the Spurs sweep a young LeBron James. The former Spurs big man only had had high hopes for James. The two shared a moment after the Spurs clinched the title, as Duncan told James that he would be the next big thing in the league.

According to Bleacher Report, Duncan told James “This is gonna be your league in a little while… I appreciate you giving us this year.”

James became who he is now and there is no question that facing an all-time great in Tim Duncan helped him achieve a lot so far in his career that includes four NBA Championship rings. Unfortunately for James however, Duncan gets the last laugh when it comes to NBA Finals series wins with their last encounter seeing Duncan and the Spurs taking the trophy in 2014 as they finished James and the Heat in five games.

5. Kawhi Leonard

NBA Finals vs. LeBron James: 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs

Another Spurs player that gave James a hard time when the Heat and the Spurs met in the Finals is Kawhi Leonard. Coming into the Finals, no one would expect Leonard to keep in step with James. In 2013, The Claw gave a good account for himself in his first NBA Finals appearance by averaging a double-double in points and rebounds as he logged in 14.6 points and 11.1 boards per outing.

However, it was in the succeeding NBA Finals where Leonard proved to everyone in the league that he was a legit superstar at the forward position. Despite being surrounded with the Spurs’ version of the Big Three and tasked to matchup against arguably the greatest NBA player, Leonard locked down LeBron James pretty much during the entire series. Although James was slowed down by cramps and still managed to average 28.2 points, Leonard definitely played an integral part in forcing James to commit at least three turnovers per game during the 2014 NBA Finals.

Aside from his defense, Leonard emerged as a scoring threat that proved too much to handle for James and the Heat as he put up 17.8 points per outing, including a 29 point explosion in Game 3 that gave the Spurs enough momentum to finish off the James-led superstar studded Miami Heat. Because of his effort on both ends on the floor in that series, Leonard was declared the NBA Finals MVP, which was the first of two in his career.

James and Leonard will hardly meet in the NBA Finals anytime soon, given that James now plays for the Lakers and Leonard for the Clippers. However after Leonard and the Clippers failed to reach the Western Conference Finals this year, you can count on James and Leonard to rekindle their rivalry, as James and the Lakers will defend their crown next season.

4. Kevin Durant

LeBron James, NBA Finals, Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets, Michael Jordan

NBA Finals vs. LeBron James: 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder, 2017-2018 Golden State Warriors

Kevin Durant is arguably one of the most lethal players in the NBA today because of the combination of his size and scoring talent. With that being said, he is arguably the toughest forward that matched up with James in the NBA Finals.

The two battle tested forwards first met in 2012 where Kevin Durant had his NBA Finals debut while LeBron James was leading the Miami Heat’s Big Three to its first ever NBA Championship together. As history unfolded, James would win this one although it is worth noting that Durant was no push-over. Despite the Thunder losing in five games, Durant had a monster showing as he averaged 30.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per outing.

Durant and LeBron met again in the Finals after five years in the NBA Finals. But this time, Durant was leading the Golden State Warriors while James was in a Cavs uniform after historically capturing the title against the Warriors in 2016.

There was no question that James had to deal with an enormous amount of firepower against the Warriors that was spearheaded by KD. James battled with Durant for two straight years in the Finals with KD coming out on top on both occasions and also took home the Finals MVP Trophy twice.

Durant is tough to handle one on one, however he became even more dangerous alongside stars like Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. Although a lot of fans were not happy with Durant joining the star-studded Warriors, there’s no doubt that Durant’s talent is unmatched. Because of his presence, he made the Warriors a dynasty that overshadowed James’ iconic individual performances in the Finals stage.

Durant is currently signed with the Brooklyn Nets, as he teamed up with James’ former teammate in Kyrie Irving. With Durant’s talent and playing alongside Irving, it is still quite possible for James and Durant to meet once again in the Finals. If these two superstars meet once again, there will be no question that only basketball fans will benefit from the action as James and Durant can certainly put on an epic show in the bright lights of the NBA Finals.

3. Tony Parker

NBA Finals vs. LeBron James: 2007, 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs

One of the toughest guards James ever had to deal with in the NBA Finals is no doubt Tony Parker. The cat quick guard was no doubt instrumental for the San Antonio Spurs franchise that denied James two NBA championship rings.

Parker was at his best in 2007, as James and the Cavs simply had no answer for the 6’2 guard had a great ability to breakdown defenses. Furthermore, he also took advantage of James’ inexperience in the NBA Finals at that time. The former Spurs guard had a field day in the NBA Finals in that edition as he averaged 24.5 points and 5.0 dimes per game. He also shot an efficient 56.8% overall from the field. Because of this, he was declared the Finals MVP in 2007.

Although James would have his way in 2013, as the Heat put away the Spurs in seven games, Parker continued to be a thorn in LeBron’s championship quest in 2014 as Parker went to his scoring ways, averaging 18 points per game, which led his team in scoring. As a result, the french playmaker is no doubt one of the toughest players LeBron ever faced in the Finals.

2. Stephen Curry

NBA Finals vs. LeBron James: 2015-2018 Golden State Warriors

Aside from Tony Parker, another guard that haunted LeBron in the NBA Finals is Stephen Curry. The spitfire guard is no question a major threat from long range alongside his teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Aside from his lethal shooting, James also had to watch his teammates due to Curry’s superb passing skills.

The hot shooting court general is no doubt the face of the Golden State Warriors that faced LeBron James’ Cavaliers for four straight years. Although Curry has never won the Finals MVP Trophy, guarding him is arguably one of the toughest jobs LeBron ever had to do in his career.

Although James did succeed once during the Cavs’ miracle comeback in 2016, Curry’s shooting helped the Warriors win three championships at the expense of James and the Cavs. In the four NBA Finals they met, Curry always averaged at least 22 points per game while shooting an accurate 38% to 40% from deep.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Lakers do meet the Warriors in the next playoffs, given how James and Curry have had an incredible rivalry. Although it won’t be in the Finals, James will have to exorcise some demons if he wants to take down Stephen Curry and the Warriors even if he is now with a more talented Lakers roster.

1. Dirk Nowitzki

NBA Finals vs. LeBron James: 2011 Dallas Mavericks

If there is a player that gave James a tough NBA Finals series, not a lot of players can match what Dirk Nowitzki did in the 2011 NBA Finals. The German forward gave the Miami Heat and the Big Three a rough debut in the NBA Finals stage. Furthermore, it is worth noting that Dirk is the only player in this list that James never beat in the Finals.

Nowitzki put up a scoring display throughout the entire NBA Finals. The former Mavericks stretch big put up 26.0 points and 9.7 boards per game against the Miami Heat. Furthermore, he shot 41% overall from the field, 36.8% from beyond the arc, and a whooping 97.8% from the free throw line. The 7’0 big was often seen making his signature one-legged fadeaway midrange jumper, which even LeBron James himself could not stop.

James also had a tough Finals series going against Nowitzki and the Mavericks, as he put up only 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per outing. Although these numbers weren’t terrible, everybody expected more from the King. There was no question that Nowitzki was the critical piece that helped the Mavericks upset the Big Three of the Miami Heat, as the German star was named the 2011 NBA Finals MVP.

Because of Nowitzki’s exemplary performance against James and the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals, he sits at the top spot of this list. Although Nowitzki and James will never meet again in the NBA Finals with the former hanging up his sneakers in 2019, Nowitzki’s title conquest over James in 2011 is considered as one of the best underdog stories in NBA history.