Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (left) and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (right) during the 2016 NBA Finals.
Photo: Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports
Gavriel M. Wilkins | 06.01.17
The wait is almost over.
In what has shaped up to become one of the most interesting rivalries in recent memory, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet up once again in the NBA Finals this Thursday night — marking the first time ever in league history where two teams have faced off against one another for three consecutive seasons.
The Cavs and Warriors split their two regular season matchups on the season, as Kyrie Irving’s late-game heroics helped the Cavs pull out a 109-108 win on Christmas Day in Cleveland. The Warriors annihilated the defending champs by 35 points less than a month later on their home floor.
However, one could act as though that game never occurred in the north coast — simply because we did not have enough practice time anyway.
Let’s take a look at the series schedule and shed light on some of the matchups that we will see out on the floor, as we reveal who we believe will come out on top at the end of Round 3 in this best-of-seven series.
Tipoff is approximately five hours away.
2017 NBA Finals Schedule
Game 1: Thursday Jun. 1, Cleveland at Golden State, 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST, ABC
Game 2: Sunday Jun. 4, Cleveland at Golden State, 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. CST, ABC
Game 3: Wednesday Jun. 7, Golden State at Cleveland, 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST, ABC
Game 4: Friday Jun. 9, Golden State at Cleveland, 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST, ABC
*Game 5: Monday Jun. 12, Cleveland at Golden State, 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST, ABC
*Game 6: Thursday Jun. 15, Golden State at Cleveland, 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST, ABC
*Game 7: Sunday Jun. 18, Cleveland at Golden State, 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. CST, ABC
Photo: Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports
The Sequel, Part II: LeBron James and Kevin Durant
This is the matchup that will most certainly draw the attention of most across the country, as the two players will meet up in the NBA Finals for the first time in five years.
In 2012, Kevin Durant led the Oklahoma City Thunder against a dominant Miami Heat team, where he would eventually go down in defeat in a hard-fought, five-game series against King James.
However, much has changed since then.
Both players find themselves in completely new settings, as the two stars return to the game’s biggest stage at the peak of their prowess.
With the roles completely reversed.
James, who was once viewed by many as the league’s poster villain after leaving Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach seven years ago, is now viewed by most within a different light after delivering a championship in his return home. Durant has managed to take the blackguard label as of recent times — the eight-time All-Star and 2014 NBA MVP parted ways with the Thunder after nine seasons, to head out to the Bay Area in pursuit of his first title.
James and Durant each had phenomenal regular-season campaigns, as the two could have challenged the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden for MVP had Durant never suffered a rough knee injury in the middle of the year, and LeBron opting to cruise his way through the regular season.
While the two will more than likely not cover one another throughout the series as a way to conserve energy on the offensive end, the game’s premier players will get their chance to do so come crunch time. Especially if this series shapes up to be the classic that we know it can be.
Photo: Getty Images
Kyrie Irving vs. Stephen Curry
Although most will openly state that Warriors point guard Stephen Curry is the better overall player, Kyrie Irving always seems to take his game to another notch whenever he goes head-to-head against the baby-faced assassin in the NBA Finals.
As a result, these two players battle it out and light the scoreboard up in an “anything you can do, I can do better” type of affair.
Irving is arguably the greatest one-on-one player in the game — particularly within the isolation sets that Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue seeks to involve him in, as he can blow by defenders en route to the rim or hit them with stepback jumpers from beyond the arc — leaving many spectators transfixed to their television screens and mobile devices on a nightly basis.
Hurt or not, Irving put in what ASAP Ferg would call work against Curry last year in the Finals.
Curry is still a dangerous man though. One who can drop 30 points or more on you with his ability to hit shots from downtown at a rapid rate.
But another average performance in the Finals will not cut it in the series known as the threematch, as Irving could possibly be Curry’s Kyrptonite.
With Durant alongside of him now, the two-time reigning NBA MVP will definitely get his fair share of opportunities. Especially should the Cavaliers not try to trap him in any capacity.
This will end up shaping up as one of the most thrilling matchups to watch out for on the court.
Photo: Associated Press
J.R. Smith vs. Klay Thompson
Known for their abilities to shoot it from beyond the arc and catch fire at any instant, J.R. Smith and Klay Thompson have failed to get much of anything to fall as of late in the NBA playoffs.
Thompson is averaging 14.4 points per game in the playoffs for Golden State, but is shooting a career-worst 38.3 percent from the field. It’s a far cry from the 22.3 points per game that the 27-year-old shooting guard averaged during the regular season, while managing to shoot over 40 percent from the field and long range, respectively.
Smith, who is shooting 44.9 percent from 3-point range, is averaging a quiet 6.6 points per game on the postseason — scoring in double figures just twice in 13 contests. However, he has still managed to play a viable role in Cleveland’s success with his defense as of late.
These two players may not be the main stars that you come to see on the NBA Finals stage, but their play in this series could prove to be critical in determining who comes out with the gold ball for the second time in three seasons.
Photo: Getty Images
Kevin Love vs. Draymond Green
If there was any period in which Kevin Love could seek to prove himself against the Golden State Warriors, then now would be the greatest time to do it.
Since coming over to the Cavaliers via trade from Minnesota Timberwolves three years ago, Love has shot only 50 percent just once against the defending Western Conference champions — failing to score at least 10 points or more in five out of his last six contests against them.
Why you ask? It’s quite simple.
Considered by many as one of the league’s best defenders, Green can easily defend all five positions on the floor — as he has the ability to block shots, and roam around the passing lanes like a free safety throughout the entirety of a given game.
This is why most consider the fifth-year power forward as a legitimate candidate to take home the Defensive Player of the Year award at the end of the season.
Yet, Love appears to be playing some of his best basketball as of late.
The four-time All-Star is currently averaging 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game for the Cavs, while shooting 45.7 percent from the field.
This is the Kevin Love who the Cavaliers will need to show up against one of the NBA’s top trash talkers. One of the best ways to silence your opponent, is through letting your play speak for itself.
Should this Minnesota Timberwolves-like version of Kevin Love show up in this year’s NBA Finals, then we could find ourselves celebrating yet another world championship in the coming days.
Photo: Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group
Tristan Thompson vs. Zaza Pachulia
Despite being considered as a starter, Zaza Pachulia has only averaged 14.5 minutes per game for the Warriors in the postseason. Making this battle in the interior between him and Tristan Thompson, a very peculiar one to closely access.
The game will begin with Pachulia on the floor in a big-on-big matchup against Thompson, but Andre Iguodala is the man who plays the bulk of minutes as the Warriors “center.”
This will more than likely not change in these NBA Finals.
Tristan Thompson has proven why the Cavaliers were willing to invest quite mightily in him just over a year ago, as he has found a way to take his free-throw shooting to the next level. The 6-foot-9 center is currently shooting 66.7 percent from the line this postseason, compared to a woeful 49.8 percent on the regular season.
In this series, though, Thompson will seek to thrive where he always does: on the glass.
A place where the big man in last year’s Finals was tracking down offensive rebounds from just about anywhere on the floor. Thompson can take advantage of smaller lineups that the Warriors seek to utilize better than just about any center down low in the NBA. This will allow the Cavs to garner second and third chances in the process.
Cleveland has an 18-3 record on the season, when Thompson records a double-double in his outings.
And with his most recent performances as of late, we could possibly see a couple of those in this best-of-seven series.
For the first time in his 14-year career, Kyle Korver will get a chance to showcase his skills from downtown in the NBA Finals.
Photo: Getty Images
The Cavs feature a rotation of bench players who can shoot it at an efficient rate. Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, and Deron Williams will look to bury their opponent any chance they get, when they are in a groove during a given night from the floor. You add James alongside of them, and you have yourself a lineup that features one of the game’s greatest playmakers with a plethora of 3-point snipers who can cause a head coach nightmares in preparation for them.
The Warriors feature a trio of veteran players on their bench as well, as Shaun Livingston, David West, and JaVale McGee have all stepped up along the way to contribute to Golden State’s perfect run this postseason.
Patrick McCaw and Ian Clark serve as viable defenders and shooters from long range off set plays.
This series has the makings to be an instant classic. The teams come in with a 24-1 record combined through 25 games played in the 2017 NBA playoffs.
In order for the Cavs to pull off the upset, Kevin Love must continue to play at a high level like he has throughout the postseason. Should he not be able to do it against Draymond Green and shooters such as Klay Thompson find their stride again, then the Warriors could prove to be just too much for Cleveland to handle.
Expect the Cavs to trap Stephen Curry just as they have other star point guards throughout their title run this season, in the effort to force guys such as Andre Iguodala and Green to beat them from the perimeter, just as they did with Harrison Barnes in last year’s Finals.
Whoever takes the best care of the basketball and converts on more opportunities out in transition will more than likely be the team that ends up winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
The stars from the likes of Irving, Curry and Durant, will all come to play —making for interesting theater.
However, one will shine the brightest out of all.
His name is LeBron James.
The Cavaliers defeat the Golden State Warriors in six games, to become the first team since the 2012-13 Miami Heat to capture back-to-back NBA championships.