The first one deserved a sequel, which Cleveland won in the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history to even things up with Golden State.
Then with Kevin Durant joining Stephen Curry on one side and LeBron James leading the other, the Warriors and Cavaliers sent interest soaring as they rampaged toward the tiebreaker last season.
But the rubber match was a mismatch, and the Warriors are expected to win just as easily this time.
So as Round 4 of the record-setting rivalry begins Thursday night, has Warriors-Cavaliers become too much of a good thing?
“I don’t think so,” Golden State guard Klay Thompson said. “I think the rest of the NBA has got to get better. It’s not our fault. I’m sure if you asked the fans of the Warriors and the Cavs around the world, whether it’s in the Bay Area or in Cleveland, I’m sure they’re happy with their team performance. The only people I hear saying that are fans from other teams, which is natural. I don’t blame them. But as long as our fan base is happy, that’s all that matters.”
It’s the first time in NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL history that the same teams are meeting four straight times in the championship round, and intrigue in the teams hasn’t waned yet. The NBA had its most-watched conference finals since 2012, as both teams had to rally from 3-2 deficits to win Game 7s on the road.
But if this series quickly becomes as lopsided as some fear — ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy said he couldn’t remember a bigger gap between finals teams and said any game the Cavs win is a huge upset — many of those people who have tuned in the last few years might be looking for something else to watch by the time the series switches to Cleveland.
“If James and the Cavaliers win Game 1, you know, the interest is going to skyrocket because they are going to have done what very few — except for them maybe — think they can do, which is win at Golden State,” Van Gundy said. “If they get blown out both games, it doesn’t matter what we say. People aren’t going to be as excited.”
The players won’t apologize for showing up again, or worry that it hurts the NBA.
“I mean, it may not be as suspenseful as a lot of people want it to be or as drama-filled,” Durant said, “but that’s what you’ve got movies and music for.”
Some things to watch when the series begins at Oracle Arena:
BE LIKE MIKE
If the Warriors win, it would be their sixth NBA championship and tie them for third on the all-time list with the Chicago Bulls, who won all theirs with Michael Jordan. Then it would be a long way to go from there to catch Boston (18) or the Lakers (17).
MOVING ON UP
James could vault into second place on the NBA Finals’ career lists for points and assists. He has 1,247 points and needs 71 to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,317) and move behind only Jerry West (1,679). His 339 assists are 61 behind Bob Cousy (400). Magic Johnson had 584.
While matching up on the court, James and Durant could flip-flop on the career postseason scoring list. James currently has a slight edge, with his 28.83 points per game placing him fourth and slightly ahead of Durant, who has averaged 28.75. Durant has been even better in the NBA Finals, with his 32.9 points per game ranking last year’s finals MVP behind only Rick Barry (36.3) and Jordan (33.6) among players who have appeared in at least 10 games.
DOING IT WITH DEFENSE
The much-maligned Cavaliers’ defense has shown up in the postseason, where Cleveland is allowing just 99.9 points per game, second among the 16 teams. The Cavs held Boston under 100 points in four of the final five games of the East finals. More impressively, Golden State kept high-scoring Houston under 100 in five straight games and is right behind Cleveland at 100.3 in the playoffs.
Viewers will notice something new on the court during the series. The familiar NBA Finals logo has been replaced and the floor will now be marked with one that reads “The Finals presented by YouTube TV.”
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