OAKLAND, Calif. — They say good things come in threes. The first-ever NBA Finals trilogy, matching LeBron James and the defending champion Cavaliers against the 2015 champion Warriors, who have added superstar Kevin Durant to their cast of All-Stars, promises to be an epic confrontation that will command worldwide attention.
Game 1 is Thursday night at Oracle Arena, and the Warriors are primed for revenge following a massive letdown last season. They were coming off a record 73-win regular season but became the first team in the history of the NBA Finals to blow a 3-1 lead.
During a public speaking engagement at midseason, Warriors power forward Draymond Green showed he still was feeling the effects, telling his audience, “3-1 [expletive].” Green dial ed it down a bit Wednesday, saying the Warriors want to beat whoever is in front of them, not just the Cavs.
But Green added, “Now that this matchup has come to fruition, we’re definitely excited about the opportunity to be playing a team three straight years in the NBA Finals. I don’t think it’s happened, but it’s a special thing.”
Green denied the Warriors have been driven all season by a desire to make up for last year’s collapse. “I don’t know if ‘3-1’ has been mentioned in our locker room one time this year,” Green insisted. “When you’re chasing greatness, that’s the expectation. For us, that’s the goal, to try to build a dynasty and be great each and every time we step on the floor. That’s all the motivation we need.”
Maybe Green should talk to teammate Stephen Curry, who said the sting of losing to the Cavs “has been a great motivating factor. I don’t want to feel what I felt last year, and I’m going to do everything in my power to attack every game with that kind of perspective.”
Last year’s series turned on a controversial play when Green kicked James in the groin and was suspended for Game 5, starting the Warriors’ downward spiral. “I don’t really carry it with me,” Green said. “I’m a firm believer in (stuff) happens. I carried the lessons that I learned with me, but the actual incident, I put that behind me a long time ago.”
The teams come into the Finals with a combined record of 24-1 in the playoffs, and there will be All-Star caliber matchups all over the court. James and Durant figure to cover each other at small forward; Green has slowed down Cavs power forward Kevin Love in the past, and Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving is challenging Curry as the best at the position. Even the bench units have firepower, but the Cavs actually have shot better than the Warriors from three-point range, hitting .435 during the playoffs compared to .389.
The teams split their season series, but the Warriors blew the Cavs out, 126-91, in their last meeting.
“They really kicked out butt,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “We didn’t come in with the right mindset. We beat them on Christmas Day (109-108), so they were trying to get some get-back. They came out to prove a point, and they did.”
Lue said the Cavs’ 12-1 playoff record underscores how focused they are on defending their title. Ultimately, the series might revolve around which set of superstars can impose its will on the other.
“Well, I mean, it’s inevitable,” Irving said. “Four great players like that — myself and Steph and then K.D. and Bron — obviously, there will be a lot of attention paid to that. So we definitely have to be special, myself and Bron, in order to propel our team to a win, but we have to bring our teammates along as well.”
It should be a fun ride for everyone, especially the fans.