May 27, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) scores a basket during the third quarter of game six of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick…
LeBron James and Cleveland get a chance for revenge against the Stephen Curry-led Golden State in the NBA Finals starting on Thursday, but the underdog Cavaliers have the misfortune to face a Warriors team seemingly peaking again at the right time.
Had they met while Curry was nursing an injury several weeks ago, the Cavaliers might have started as favorites for the best-of-seven series but instead they will be big betting underdogs against a rejuvenated and largely healthy Warriors line-up.
But at least it will be a fair fight this year.
The Cavs were not quite a one-man team in last year’s championship series, but without two of their “Big Three” in injured forward Kevin Love and guard Kyrie Irving, they did well in some respects to take the series to six games.
With Love and Irving healthy this time around, many basketball fans are salivating at the prospect of a classic series but the history of sport is replete with examples of events that promised much, only to fail to live up to expectations.
But on paper at least it does have the potential to be a compelling series as James, in his sixth consecutive NBA Finals (including four with the Miami Heat) tries to lift the Cavs to their first championship.
And the fact the Cavs are about a 2-1 underdog means nothing to James.
“Not my concern,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t get involved in all of that — underdog, overdog, whatever the case may be. It’s stupidity. We’re better built to start the Finals than we were last year.”
As for the Warriors, their path to the Finals appeared to be straightforward after they won 73 regular season games, an NBA record.
But a right ankle injury forced reigning NBA most valuable player Curry out of the lineup for two games in the first round against Houston, and a right knee sprain in his first game back against the Rockets caused him to miss another four games.
Still, the Warriors had enough depth without Curry to account for Houston and then the Portland Trail Blazers, but the Oklahoma City Thunder proved a much sterner test in the Western Conference Finals.
Down 3-1, the Warriors did what great teams do, overcoming adversity to win the last three games and set up what, Thunder fans excepted, most of the basketball world wanted to see.
“This whole playoff run has kind of been a roller coaster ride for me specifically, but also for our team,” Curry said recently. “We never lost confidence, and every game just played with fearlessness and that confidence that we could get back to the Finals, however we had to get it done.
“So it was just a roller coaster from the time I got hurt to coming back and dealing with injuries and what-not, and now we’re four wins away from our goal, and that’s a pretty special accomplishment.”
Curry made a playoff-record 32 three-point shots for a seven-game series and his backcourt partner Thompson hit 30, including a playoff game record of 11 three-pointers.
Emotion poured out of the 28-year-old Curry when he made his final three-point attempt on Monday as the Warriors became just the 10th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit. The Golden State guard ran over to the first row of the team’s supportive followers, pumping his fist and shouting to the crowd.
“It was just a very cool moment to enjoy that fan noise and understand we were on the brink of doing something very special and coming back from down 3-1, and that was it,” Curry said.
However, none of that will mean much if the Warriors fall to Cleveland.
Games One (Thursday) and Two (Sunday) will be played in Oakland, California, with the next two games shifting to Cleveland (June 8 and 10).
If necessary, Game Five will be back in Oakland on June 13, Game Six in Cleveland on June 16 and Game Seven in Oakland on June 19.
(Editing by Andrew Both/Mark Lamport-Stokes)