INDEPENDENCE (92.3 The Fan) – From the moment the final buzzer sounded at Oracle Arena on June 19, 2016, Cleveland and Golden State seemed destined to meet for a third consecutive time in the NBA Finals come June, 2017.
The champagne had just started to flow when talk of a three-match between the teams began.
While both teams have and continue to downplay their collision course with destiny, the stars continue to align to bring fate to reality.
The dominance of the Cavs and Warriors in the playoffs so far has raised questions about the level of competition as well as whether or not a third straight Finals featuring the 2 franchises was good for the NBA.
Cavs head coach and 2-time NBA champion in 2000 and 2001 as a player for the Los Angeles Lakers Tyronn Lue thinks it’s good for the game.
“I think a lot of people wanted to see Boston and the Lakers back in the day,” Lue said. “I think nowadays, a lot of people want to see Golden State-Cavs.”
The Celtics and Lakers have met a record 12 times in the NBA Finals with Boston prevailing 9 times, including the first 8 between them. The 2 teams squared off most recently in 2008 and 2010 that saw the franchises split titles with L.A. winning the most recent meeting.
The Cavs and Warriors are hardly on the same stage as Boston-L.A., but they have been evenly matched and provided great theater in their first 2 Finals meetings.
Golden State topped the injury-riddled Cavs in 6 games in 2015, popping champagne in Cleveland before the Cavs returned the favor in 2016 winning in 7 games after becoming the first team in league history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win it all.
“I think last year [the Finals] had some of the best ratings, I think, in NBA history,” Lue said. “I think now with them adding Durant and the way they’re playing, the way we’re playing, it can be even higher.”
Forward Tristan Thompson didn’t want to say much about the Warriors on Wednesday, the team’s first official practice since sweeping Toronto Sunday in the conference semifinals, when asked about what everyone believes to be a foregone conclusion come June 1.
“They’re playing hard and we are too,” Thompson said. “I don’t think it’s boring or nothing like that. I think both teams are locked in and understand there’s a bigger goal.”
In the pursuit of a championship there is a golden rule – never look ahead or past an opponent – and Thompson followed it to the letter of the law Wednesday.
“We’re not even looking at the Warriors,” Thompson deadpanned.
This year, the Cavs and Warriors are both 8-0 in the playoffs and coming off back-to-back sweeps of their opponents while waiting to see who they’ll face in the conference finals. Cleveland swept Indiana and Toronto and awaits the outcome of Boston and Washington – that series is tied at 2 – while out West the Spurs lead the Rockets 3-2 with the winner getting the Warriors who broomed Portland and Utah.
“Right now, it’s two of the teams playing some of the best basketball right now,” Lue said. “So, two of the teams that have been in back to back Finals, so, why not? Why not want to see it again?”
Last season the Cavs were consumed with their 2015 Finals defeat, feeling that they were unable to give Golden State their best shot and it fueled their historic comeback to end Cleveland’s 52-year title drought.
This year the Warriors countered with the addition of Kevin Durant to help prevent a Cavs repeat while Cleveland has tried to keep the focus on themselves.
But as they advance along with Golden State, Lue revealed that the Warriors aren’t the only team he’s watching closely.
“I’m watching everybody,” Lue said. “San Antonio, Houston, Golden State, Washington, Boston, I’m watching everything. And my mind is always going, it’s always running and you’re always trying to get an advantage somehow.”
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals is scheduled for Monday night should either the Wizards or Celtics prevail in 6 games Friday night, but if the series goes to a Game 7 on Sunday the conference final wouldn’t tip-off until May 17.
As the 2-seed in the East, Cleveland would hit the road for Games 1 and 2 in Boston should the Celtics win, but if Washington advances the Cavs would have home court advantage.