Here we go again. Cavaliers vs. Warriors. Warriors vs. Cavaliers. Same as it was in 2015, when the Golden State Warriors took the title in six games. Same as it was in 2016, when the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied to win it in seven. It’s the rubber match. Third time’s the charm.
The NBA Finals begin Thursday night — finally! — in Oakland on ABC, with the third consecutive Cleveland-Golden State matchup, a head-on collision most basketball fans could see coming before the season even began.
But wait a minute, Cleveland isn’t supposed to have a chance, right? Never mind that the Cavaliers are the defending champions. Golden State now has Kevin Durant. The Warriors won 67 regular-season games. They are 12-0 in the playoffs. They’ve lost all of one game since March 14. That’s right. Since March 14.
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Let’s not count the Cavs out just yet, however. It’s not like Cleveland is down 3-1 — oops, that being the deficit it rallied from last year to shock the hoops world. True, Cleveland won just 51 games in the regular season. But the Cavs are 12-1 in the playoffs.
Plus, drumroll please, they have LeBron James.
That would be the same LeBron James who is participating in his seventh straight finals — four with the Miami Heat and three straight with the Cavaliers. That’s mind-boggling. We’re talking the same LeBron James who, after winning two titles in Miami, returned home to get Cleveland a long-awaited title (mission accomplished), who kept the injury-ridden Cavs afloat in 2015 and found a way to race the length of the court for the miraculous blocked shot that turned last season’s Game 7 Cleveland’s way.
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Yes, we know, Golden State has Stephen Curry. And Draymond Green. And Klay Thompson. And, now Durant, the megastar who turned his back on his faithful following in Oklahoma City and migrated to the Bay Area for the specific purpose of earning a championship ring.
Hold on a minute, however. Cleveland has Kyrie Irving, who scored 26 points in last year’s final game. Cleveland has Kevin Love, who is playing his best basketball since coming to the Cavaliers soon after James’ homecoming. This postseason, Love is averaging 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds, personal bests with the Cavs. He’s shooting 47.5 percent from three-point range.
Is that enough to beat Golden State? Probably not. The Warriors are the favorite for a reason. Unlike last season’s Finals, Curry appears healthy. Durant is another ridiculous weapon. Having lost last year in part because Green couldn’t control his emotions, Draymond is more likely to keep things in check this time around. Golden State is the better team.
The Warriors don’t have the best player. LeBron is the best player. And he keeps on proving it.
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James is averaging 32.5 points this postseason, 6.1 more than he did in the regular season. He’s shooting 56.5 percent from the field compared to 54.8. He’s making (for him) a ridiculous 42.1 percent of his attempts from three-point range compared to 36.3 percent. He’s shooting 71.2 percent from the free-throw line compared to 67.4 percent during the regular year.
At 32 years old, he’s playing his best basketball when Cleveland needs him to play his best basketball.
A year ago, down 3-1 to the defending champions, no one gave the Cavaliers much of a chance. You don’t overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA playoffs. Not against Golden State, anyway.
Yet the Cavs found a way. And though Golden State looks better and hungrier this year, the Cavs boast the one reason to think they could find a way again this year.
They have LeBron.
My pick: Cavaliers in six.
NBA Finals schedule
- Game 1: Thursday, June 1 at Golden State -- 9 p.m. on ABC
- Game 2: Sunday, June 4 at Golden State -- 8 p.m. on ABC
- Game 3: Wednesday, June 7 at Cleveland -- 9 p.m. on ABC
- Game 4: Friday, June 9 at Cleveland -- 9 p.m. on ABC
- Game 5: Monday, June 12 at Golden State -- 9 p.m. on ABC
- Game 6: Thursday, June 15 at Cleveland -- 9 p.m. on ABC
- Game 7: Sunday, June 18 at Golden State -- 8 p.m. on ABC
Cavaliers at Warriors
Game 1: 9 p.m. Thursday (ABC-36)