The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers meet in this year’s NBA Finals, representing two long-suffering NBA fanbases. It’s been 40 years since the Warriors raised a championship banner. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have yet to.
It’s also the first time since the NBA’s inaugural season that two rookie coaches, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and Cavaliers head coach David Blatt, have taken their teams to the NBA Finals.
But which coach, and team, will come out on top? Here are three things to watch for as the series gets underway Thursday (9 p.m., ABC):
The Cavs are back in the Finals because of one man, LeBron James. If you can get past all the complaining to referees and all the "look-at-me" moments, you see a once-in-a-generation player. James chose to return to Cleveland because he wanted to bring a championship back home, and once again he’s on the brink of doing that. But with Kyrie Irving (knee) not fully healthy, it could all fall on James to finish the job. This Warriors team has no shortage of options in defending him. Whether it’s Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, or Draymond Green, the Warriors are going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at him in hopes to limit his production. If you’re Golden State, you make James beat you with his jumper. The last thing they want is him driving to the basket and putting them in foul trouble.
The Splash Brothers
It was a scary scene when Klay Thompson began to bleed out of his ear after taking an inadvertent knee to the head last series. Thompson was diagnosed with a concussion last week, but told reporters he expects to be cleared and ready to go for Game 1. Thompson and Steph Curry make up the most dangerous backcourt in the NBA and can shoot their way back into a game in a moment’s notice. Curry (73-for-167, 43.7 percent) and Thompson (45-for-106) have hit the most 3-pointers this postseason (as well as the regular season) and that’s one part of their game that no opposing team is going to be able to eliminate. There’s a good chance James covers Curry at some point, but the Warriors are so good at getting him open that James is going to be doing a lot of chasing.
The Warriors have only lost three games at home all season, one of which came in the playoffs against the Grizzlies. They’ve got homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals, and they’re playing in front of a wild fanbase that’s hasn’t had a reason to be wilder in a long time. So yes, it’s going to be loud. But the Cavaliers have won six games on the road in the postseason, including their last four. They’re obviously going to need to win at least one at Golden State, but it will prove to be their toughest test yet.