As the NBA Finals begin Thursday night in Oakland, the rubber match between Golden State and Cleveland might be the best one yet.
Both teams reached the last stop in the postseason with a combined record of 24-1 in the playoffs.
Will LeBron James carry the Cavaliers again or can the Warriors’ super team avenge last year’s Finals loss in which they had a 3-1 series lead?
Here are five things to watch:
For the first time in NBA Finals history, the championship battle will feature the same two teams for a third consecutive season. In the previous two matchups, the Warriors won in six games in 2015, and the Cavaliers won in seven games last year despite Golden State leading the series 3-1. Both teams have breezed through the playoffs to reach the Finals, with Golden State going 12-0 and Cleveland 12-1.
James is appearing in his seventh-straight NBA Finals and eighth overall. He looks to be playing better than ever at age 32, in his 14th season, and with more than 200 playoff games under his belt. This postseason, James is averaging 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, and shooting 57 percent from the field.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr continues to deal with migraine headaches stemming from his back surgery nearly two years ago. Kerr will travel to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4, but it’s still unclear if he will be on the court coaching. If not, former Cleveland coach and current Warriors assistant Mike Brown will assume Kerr’s duties. Brown led James and the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals.
A behind-the-back pass resulting in a turnover with 5 minutes, 16 seconds left in Game 7 still crosses Curry’s mind. The Warriors led 87-86 at the time, but scored two points the rest of the game in a 93-89 loss. Curry struggled in last year’s final, averaging 4.3 turnovers a game and shot just 40.3 percent from the field. The two-time NBA MVP shot 22 of 60 (37 percent) from the floor and 15 of 42 (35.7 percent) from the 3-point line in the final three games – all losses.
After nine seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant headed west to Golden State in the off-season. Durant is averaging 25.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in the playoffs – including 28 points per game in a sweep over San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals. Durant is shooting at a high rate – 55.6 percent including 60.3 percent against the Spurs. Making his second Finals appearance, can Durant finally get a championship ring?