Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James: A Statistical History
Last Thursday, right in the middle of the dog days of the NBA season, basketball enthusiasts were treated to a historically significant game: the last matchup that will ever be played between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Kobe and LeBron, much like Mike before them, have each possessed the kind of generational talent where just the mere mention of their first names conjures up the word "greatness" in even the most casual of basketball fans. Neither really caught up to Mike on anyone's all-time list, but they sure have kept the game interesting and questions regarding such rankings in play since His Airness hung up his Jordans the year before LeBron's rookie season (and the jury's still out on which one got closer).
We've been treated to 22 games between the two over the last 13 years. The statistics notably favor LeBron, but it should be noted that Kobe was already 25 and in his eighth NBA season when LeBron came into the league at age 18. Much of their time spent playing against each other was during LeBron's rise and peak, as opposed to Kobe's peak and decline.
Even so, the numbers over that span for both of them have been as fantastic as you'd expect:
LeBron's teams have gone 16-6 against Kobe's Lakers over those 22 matchups, with "The King" ending on a five-game winning streak against the "Black Mamba" dating back to 2013. What's perhaps more interesting to explore, however, is the question of who won the most individual matchups.
Game Score, created by John Hollinger, is meant to give a rough measure of a player's productivity for a single game by weighting and combining points, field goal attempts and misses, free throw attempts and misses, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, steals, assists, blocks, personal fouls, and turnovers. The scale is similar to that of points scored (40 is an outstanding performance, 10 is an average performance, etc.).
Over the 22 battles between the two legends, Kobe had an average Game Score of 16.1 and LeBron averaged 21.9. If you look at who bested whom in each of those games, LeBron had a record of 16-6, exactly the same as the team records (although not for exactly the same games).
The best performance from either legend over the 13 years of facing each other came on Christmas Day in 2010, when LeBron dropped a Game Score of 33.3 for his 27 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the field, 5-for-6 from three-point range, and 6-for-6 from the free throw line, rounded out by 11 rebounds and 10 assists to complete a triple-double, plus 4 steals and a lone turnover. This marked the first time that LeBron faced Kobe as a member of Heat, and he and Miami went on to win that game by a convincing score of 96-80.
Kobe's best performance over those 22 matchups came on January 27th, 2008, when he scored 33 points on 10-for-21 shooting from the field and 13-for-18 from the charity stripe, to go with 12 rebounds, 6 assists, a block, and 3 turnovers. His final Game Score of 25.4 was his best in any matchup against LeBron over the years, but unfortunately for the Black Mamba, LeBron was just a wee notch better in that one at 25.5 (for his 41 points, 50.0% shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 5 turnovers), and the Cavs came away with the 98-95 road victory.
One thing that Kobe might take away from their long history of showdowns, however, is that he won the final individual matchup between the two after a nine-game drought.
Last Thursday, Kobe had a throwback performance in over 32 minutes, scoring 26 points on 11-for-16 shooting from the field and 3-for-4 from long range, while adding 5 boards, 2 assists, a steal, and a block, without committing a single turnover. It was a rarely efficient night for Kobe's farewell tour, and it could very well go down as the best game of his final season (at the very least, as his most efficient).
Kobe's final Game Score in that tilt of 23.4 beat LeBron's 18.6, which he got on a shockingly routine 24 points on 9-for-18 shooting, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks, and 3 turnovers.
LeBron's Cavs may have gotten the 120-108 victory over Kobe's Lakers in the end, but for the last time in their long and storied history of compelling encounters, Kobe outperformed LeBron.