Whether you’re of the opinion that a back-to-back rematch was inevitable or stand by Oklahoma and/or Toronto being robbed of their rightful slots, the sheer energy and buzz going into Friday’s opening game of the NBA Finals is undeniable. And with good reason: the 2015 tournament where Cleveland faced off against Golden State in the Finals for the first time was every basketball fan’s dream come true, ending with the Warriors taking home the title for the first time in forty years. Packed with all the excitement, showmanship, drama and heart-stopping moments found in the very best sports stories, securing the title was the perfect capper to the Warriors’ Cinderella story.
Which brings us to the 2016 edition – the second back-to-back Finals rematch since the Miami Heat faced off with the San Antonio Spurs in 2013 and 2014.
The Cavaliers were able to secure their place in the Finals with a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Raptors. In an interview, the characteristically-dominant LeBron James – who will be making his sixth consecutive Finals appearance – told ESPN, ““The man above has given me an unbelievable ability, and I just try to take full advantage of it.” And take advantage he did, scoring 33 points in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals that saw the Cavs win, 4-2.
James told USA Today that this year’s Finals had a “different feeling” compared to 2015, when the Cavs were forced to enter the Finals without Kevin Love (who was out with an injured shoulder), and, after Game 1, Kyrie Irving (with a fractured kneecap). Despite averaging 35.8 points in last year’s Finals, James was unable to turn the tide on his own.
On the other side of the country, the Warriors eliminated any doubts of making the Finals when they overcome a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-7 Western Conference Finals against Oklahoma City Thunder in a series that came to be defined by League MVP Stephen Curry’s defiant proclamation that his team wasn’t going home. The defending champs are coming hot off the heels of a red-hot season that saw them set the league’s best-ever season record of 73-9, led by Splash Brothers Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson.
“I think everybody knows a lot about (the Warriors),” James said. “It doesn’t mean anything. You still gotta try to stop them, and that’s a tall task. They’re a well-oiled machine, obviously well coached and got so many great players on their team…So it’s going to be very challenging for us, and we have to be ready for it.”
Friday can’t get here soon enough.