Good things come in threes, as they say.
It has seemed a foregone conclusion for some time that we would get this match up for the third year in succession and as we enter June, we have exactly that.
The King, LeBron James, enters an unprecedented seventh successive NBA Finals series in a bid to win his fourth ring (his second in his hometown of Cleveland) while Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are out to exercise the demons of last season’s catastrophic meltdown with a new ‘sidekick’ in Kevin Durant.
It doesn’t get any better than this. So let’s break it down.
It all starts on Friday, June 2 at 11am (AEST) as the Cavs travel to the Bay Area.
All games are live on ESPN, with the schedule detailed below.
— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) May 30, 2017
As both sides have completely dominated their match ups so far through the playoffs, a combined 24-1 record (the fewest of any two sides to enter the finals under the current format (1984)), this has resulted in either side having 24 days rest each between series’, so fatigue won’t be as much of a factor come game seven on June 19.
So where will this series be won?
LeBron and Kevin Durant will get their points. As will Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry. Klay Thompson is certainly more than capable as well, isn’t that right, Sacramento fans?
But the biggest match up of the series is Kevin Love and Draymond Green.
Love’s influence in the previous two finals against the Warriors was pretty much null and void, following a shoulder injury in 2015 and a concussion last season which resulted in him averaging just 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds through the six games that he played.
This season, however, he has been a key cog in Cleveland’s armour this season, with his offensive efficiency almost reminiscent of his days in Minnesota. Sure, his numbers aren’t as high, and nor should they be, but his ability to get hot from both inside and outside of the arc are a big reason why Cleveland has been so dominant in the playoffs.
He’s averaging a double-double (17.2ppg/10.4rpg) in the playoffs while shooting 48% from beyond the arc, something that will force Green (and Durant) to defend as opposed to gambling on his opponent in order to help on the sometimes defensively-liable Curry’s opponent.
Impressively, Love’s number’s come when he has taken four or more threes in all but one of his playoff games thus far, such is the strength of the Cavaliers offensive system this season.
Draymond Green has been the player we’ve all become accustomed to in the 2017 playoffs.
His averages of 8.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.1 blocks are all team-leading stats in the Warriors 12 games this post-season while he’s also contributing 13.9 points on 47% shooting from deep, up 16% from the regular season.
While the sample size is considerably smaller, if he can continue that kind of shooting against a Cavs side who are defensively better than any of their opponents to date, it’ll go a long way to redemption for the San Francisco team.
After all, it is a make or miss league.
While his scoring is a bonus for the offensively-gifted Warriors, it’s his defence that will bother the likes of Love and James through the series.
Last season, his absence in game 5 through suspension proved costly as we all know what went on to happen. His physical and chirpy nature can get under the skin of many, however he and the Warriors can ill afford for that to happen again.
In the previous two seasons, Golden State’s bench line up has been far superior to that of the Cavs, which has given them an advantage in that area.
As much as we’d all love to see Lebron v Steph for 48 minutes in all seven games, unfortunately that will not happen.
This season, however, in order to sign the former MVP in Kevin Durant, Golden State were forced to offload a large contingent of their successful bench unit. While Javale McGee and David West have been more than useful acquisitions, with the former presenting a case for a starting spot, the Cavs strengthened second-man unit will present problems, especially with LeBron running the point.
The Cavs acquired one of the best sharp shooters in recent times in Kyle Korver (49% with Cavs this season) while Channing Frye (41%) and Richard Jefferson (33%) are more than capable of hitting the long ball, something that will no doubt be a trait of this series.
One man on the other side of the court who has no issues hitting shots from beyond the arc is Kevin Durant. It feels as though his addition to this highly-storied rivalry has gone missing, but why?
Like Curry and James, he’s an MVP, an 8-time All-Star and on top of that, he’s a 4-time NBA scoring champion and on track to be arguably one of the best scorers the game has ever seen.
Finally, his decision to join Golden State in the off-season came down to this very series.
In 2012 when he reached the NBA Finals against James’ Miami Heat, he averaged over 30 points in that five-game series.
This season, he averaged 25.1 points on the highest effective field goal percentage of his career (59.4) while averaging a career-high in rebounds and blocks and a career-low in turnovers.
Durant has elevated his game to another level in 2017 and even more-so in the playoffs. Something that all great players do.
James will be his primary defender in this series, a mouth-watering match up from whatever angle you look at it. But unlike previous games in their 22-game history (which favours Lebron 18-4), Durant will have help. And plenty of it.
One final, less spoken about factor in this series is the unavailability of Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Kerr has suffered from ongoing back issues over the past two years and has missed 10 of the Warriors 12 playoff games so far in 2017.
Mike Brown has taken over and seemingly hasn’t missed a beat with their star-studded line up, but what impact Kerr’s absence will have is yet to be seen.
Kerr, a 5-time NBA champion himself, hasn’t shut the door on a return throughout the finals.
“Once we get to Game 1 it might be a good time to make a decision one way or another,” Kerr told reporters on Monday.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue took a slight dig at the Warriors offence in their series against the Celtics, when asked what it’s like guarding the Celtics without All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
“The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s (offense) …” Lue said in his media conference after game four.
Acting Warriors coach Mike Brown wasn’t amused by the comments, poking fun at Lue as the match up between the two sides became closer to fruition.
“That’s his opinion. It’s cute. It’s his opinion,” Brown responded.
Short answer from Mike Brown on Tyronn Lue's comment that Celtics are "harder to defend" than Warriors: "That's his opinion. It's cute." pic.twitter.com/lHuezIwXfQ
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 25, 2017
The mind games and short-arm, press-conference jabs between these two teams began many months ago in anticipation that the trilogy would eventuate.
Whether you’ve been a long-time LeBron hater, had enough of Draymond Green kicking people or simply just love the fabled tales of JaVale McGee’s Shaqtin moments, you have something to cheer for in this series.
We’re all just hoping for some good, close basketball after the blowouts and dominance displayed by these two teams so far this post season.
Will Lebron’s domination of Durant continue or will Klay Thompson’s unbeaten toaster record prevail?
Coincidence or not? #SCFacts
(h/t JAYG567/Reddit) pic.twitter.com/2NUkUM727A
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 23, 2017
The stage is set for one of the NBA Finals greatest chapters to continue.
Who you got?