Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors: Lineups, preview & prediction 5/31/18

Their paths were more difficult than expected, but the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are back for a fourth chapter to determine the NBA Finals champion.

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Thursday’s Game 1 will mark the first time in North American sports history the same two teams will contest a title for four consecutive seasons. Golden State (58-24) have won two of the previous three finals, winning in six games in 2015 and in five last year to bookend Cleveland’s comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in 2016.

Both teams had to dig deep to make this meeting happen as they each overcame 3-2 series deficits and won a decisive Game 7 on the road. Once more, the best player of this generation, LeBron James, will lead the Cavaliers (50-32) against the best team of this generation and arguably one of the best all-time in the Golden State Warriors.

James has been unstoppable this postseason in becoming just the fifth player in league history and the first not associated with the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1950s and 1960s to make eight consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. Of the nine overall finals appearances James has made, this supporting cast may be the least talented of the nine since his first appearance in 2007 during his first go-round with Cleveland, and that ended with a four-game sweep at the hands of San Antonio.

He has averaged a staggering 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists while shooting 54.2 percent this postseason. And hidden in those eye-popping numbers are seven 40-point games, 13 double-doubles and three triple-doubles. The seven 40-point games are tied with Michael Jordan (1989) for the second-most in a single postseason and one off the standard set by Jerry West in 1965.

James capped Cleveland’s run back to the finals with a 35-point, 15-rebounds, nine-assist masterpiece in Cleveland’s 87-79 victory at Boston on Sunday night in which he played all 48 minutes. James has also logged 40 or more minutes in 11 of Cleveland’s 18 playoff games.

While Golden State used most of the regular season as one long tuneup for the postseason and did not finish with the league’s best record for the first time in their magnificent four-year run, they still had enough to fight past the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference. The Warriors rallied from double-digit deficits in both Game 6 and Game 7, using huge momentum-swinging third quarters while also benefitting from the absence of injured Rockets point guard Chris Paul.

Yet for all the talk of the Warriors’ high-powered offense, this conference finals win was predicated on their defense. They held Houston below 100 points in the final five games of the series and limited a team whose core identity is built on the 3-point shot to seven of 44 from beyond the arc in Monday night’s 101-92 victory. Offensively, Kevin Durant had 34 points and Stephen Curry finished one rebound shy of a triple-double with 27 points and ten assists while going seven of 15 from deep.

Curry appears to be hitting his groove after missing Golden State’s first six playoff games due to a sprained left knee. He averaged 28.2 points in the final five games against the Rockets and has averaged 24.8 overall in 11 postseason games. Durant, who shredded Cleveland last year and averaged 35.2 points while shooting 55.6 percent to claim the NBA Finals MVP, has scored 22 points in all 17 postseason games this season and is averaging a team-high 29.0 points.

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