We’re down to the final two. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. Can anyone really say that they're surprised though? It’s still quite apparent that no one can pose even a minute threat to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference, and in the Western Conference the Warriors trounced all their opponents and managed to go undefeated in the playoffs on their way to the Finals. For both teams now, this makes three straight finals appearances. As much as each side tries to downplay it, this match up has become the NBA’s most significant rivalry since the short lived Celtics-Heat rivalry - and it may even be approaching the level of the old school Lakers-Celtics rivalry. Beyond just the matchup of teams, this series is a match up of legacies. For Lebron this makes 7 straight finals appearances, and if he wins, not only will he have repeated for the second time in his career, but it will also be his 4th overall championship, propelling him even closer to the ranks of Kobe, Tim Duncan, and of course, Michael Jordan. On the other hand we have Kevin Durant, who unlike Lebron is chasing his first ring, and is also looking to shed the criticisms he's faced about his performances in the 4th quarter and his lack of ability to win the title. On top of that, he gets a chance to redeem himself against Lebron, the same foe who he lost to in his only other finals appearance - albeit the two were on different teams, Lebron in Miami, Durant in Oklahoma City. So, why is this rivalry so important for the league? And, why is this year’s finals so important for the legacies of Lebron James and Kevin Durant? In order to answer these questions let’s first take a brief look back at the past two finals series.
Although the addition of Kevin Durant during the offseason has almost certainly made the Warriors the favorite to win this year’s finals, we have all learned that you can never count out a Lebron James led team, especially against the Warriors. In the two teams first finals match up, Lebron James - without the help of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love - single-handedly kept the Cav’s in each game, in fact, at one point the Cav’s even had a 2-1 series lead before losing 3 straight. While the finals victory came as a milestone for the Warriors - winning their first NBA title since the 1974-75 season - the finals were also strangely encouraging for the Cavaliers. During that first series Lebron did his best Michael Jordan impression by carrying his team both offensively and defensively on his way to averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.5 blocks a game. Winning two games against a dominant warriors team without two of your superstars? This definitely gave the fan base and the team confidence that they could bring a championship to Cleveland. Despite the fact that the Warriors had an amazing season and proved themselves to be the best NBA team, the critics noticed this as well and began chirping, claiming that had it not been for the injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavaliers would have won the series. Well, little did we know, we would only have to wait one year to find out whether or not the critics were right.
As the history books show, the 2016 regular season belonged solely to the Warriors who broke the Bulls single season wins record - a record that not many people believed would have been broken anytime soon - by going 73-9. So, after only losing 9 regular season games it would seem that the Warriors would be a shoo-in to repeat right? Well, as we know, the playoffs proved to be quite the challenge for the Warriors who ended up reaching the finals only after coming back in spectacular fashion from a 3-1 series deficit against the hot handed Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. While the Warriors were able to make it back to the finals, so were the Cavs, and this time they had a healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Finally! What we've been waiting for, a chance to see which team, when healthy, was truly the best. At first, the Warriors seemed unstoppable and jumped out to a 3-1 lead before a Draymond Green suspension that caused him to miss a critical game 5 at home. The Cavs then went on to rattle off 3 straight victories, including a game 7 at Oracle Arena in the Bay, to take home the championship trophy. The dramatic comeback was highlighted by some clutch shots from Kyrie Irving and a monstrous chase down block from Lebron James on Andre Iguodala. However, the critics were still talking, but this time they were saying that if it weren't for Draymond Green’s suspension the Warriors would have won. So now let us fast forward to this year’s match up.
The Cavs and the Warriors have had impressive runs the post season, with the Warriors going undefeated and the Cavs only losing one game. With the addition of Kevin Durant, this finals is now the most “star studded” since the Lakers vs. Sixers back in 1983. In fact it is the first time since 1983 that the finals has featured a combined 7 NBA all-stars between the two teams. On top of that, if you were to ask most people who are the top 5 players in the NBA right now, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't include Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Lebron James in their list. Not to mention the fact that Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love are superstars in their own right. So what does this match up mean for the NBA? It means a solidified legendary rivalry. Not only have both the Warriors and the Cavs made it to three straight finals, but both teams have positioned themselves to do the same thing for at least the next three years. Both teams are also relatively young and still meshing, yet are already at the top of the league. Wouldn't it be something else to watch these teams battle in the finals for 6 straight years?! Also, besides the fact that this series has been the most talked about finals match up of the past decade, lasting legacies will literally be created this series. There are so many competing narratives at work that no matter who wins, this Final's series will go down in history as someone's defining moment. Will it be Kevin Durant who finally grasps that elusive championship? Will Lebron James repeat again and solidify himself as a champion and clutch playoff performer like Jordan? Will the Warriors win and continue to build their dynasty for the coming years? Will Kyrie Irving or Stephen Curry have performances to propel them to the title of best guard in the league? With so much to to look forward to the only thing left to do is sit back and watch.