Or at least, the 9 p.m. ET tipoff in Oracle Arena should set the tone.Last year begs to differLeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were blown away in the same venue over the first two games and lost three of the opening four games before pulling off arguably the greatest comeback in the sport’s history and setting the stage for this historic third consecutive Finals encounter.
Yet somehow this year still manages to feel different.
If LeBron and the Cavaliers pull it off on Thursday, it’s an apparent continuation of last year. But if Stephen Curry and new arrival Kevin Durant quell the same-look Cavaliers, one could argue the entire outlook of the series goes the opposite direction.
As for the series itself, here’s a look at the full schedule:
Game 1: Cleveland at Golden State, Thursday, June 1 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
Game 2: Cleveland at Golden State, Sunday, June 4 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
Game 3: Golden State at Cleveland, Wednesday, June 7 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
Game 4: Golden State at Cleveland, Friday, June 9 at 9 p.m. on ET ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
*Game 5: Cleveland at Golden State, Monday, June 12 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
*Game 6: Golden State at Cleveland, Thursday, June 15 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
*Game 7: Cleveland at Golden State, Sunday, June 18 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, streaming on WatchESPN
NBA Finals 2017
In theory, the new-look Warriors simply have to keep playing their current game and let Durant go to work. His addition, plus others such as JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia in the frontcourt, were strictly aimed at taking down the Cavaliers.
Which isn’t to say the rest of the Western Conference wasn’t respectable competition. But it sure didn’t look like it—the Warriors haven’t lost a game yet, breezing past the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz before doing the same against the San Antonio Spurs, though it’d be wrong not to mention an injury to Kawhi Leonard.
From a Cavaliers-only standpoint, though, there are two key points to keep in mind—the Warriors likely feel they can just play their game and win because Curry is on the hunt to prove his performance last year was an anomaly due to injury and the team doesn’t plan on losing Draymond Green to suspension again.
For Curry, opening at home is an added bonus, as the Warriors captured on Twitter:
But both Curry and Green will fall to the wayside in the conversation if Durant succeeds in the main area the Warriors need—isolation. This was the biggest issue the Warriors had last year in the Finals thanks to nobody on the roster being able to go one-on-one, shuttering guys like Curry into iffy pick-and-roll situations against great defenders like James.
Speaking of defense, though, it’s the area more should have an eye on when it comes to the Cavaliers. LeBron has posted his normal numbers, Irving has erupted here and there and Kevin Love feasted on a weak Boston Celtics team, but the team’s effort on the defensive side of the ball might be even more impressive.
Against the Indiana Pacers, Paul George mustered all of 15 points in the final game of the sweep. In a sweep of the Toronto Raptors, the Cavaliers kept both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in check. This trend continued in the five-game series against the Celtics, where Isaiah Thomas had minimal impact.
Cleveland wasn’t overly known for its defense in the regular season. For James, the uptick isn’t so much an effort thing as it is the structured, repetitive nature of the postseason.
“In … the postseason you get an opportunity to game-plan, you know exactly what you want to do, how you want to execute it and our coaching staff gave us a great game plan to go out there and do it,” James said, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.
What does LeBron see in these Warriors featuring Durant? A bit of himself, as captured by Cavaliers announcer Fred McLeod:
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