Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Stephen Curry have powered their teams into an NBA Finals showdown, but only one club can complete a fairy-tale run to a long-awaited crown.
James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, is on the brink of realizing the dream that pushed him to leave the Miami Heat last July and return to the Cavaliers, who could become Cleveland’s first major team sports champion since the 1964 NFL Browns won a crown in the pre-Super Bowl era — the longest title drought of any US city.
“I’m a guy who believes in unfinished business,” James said. “We all know how long it has been since a champion has been in this city.”
Curry, this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player, sparked the Warriors to the NBA’s best record at 67-15 and has them in their first final in 40 years and on the verge of their first title since 1975.
“It’s going to be a special joy these next two or three weeks to finish off this journey,” Curry said. “The Bay Area has been waiting 40 years. It’s time we got it done.”
NBA icon James and Curry, the league’s hottest new rising star, collide when the best-of-seven championship series begins Thursday at Oakland, California, on the home court where Golden State is an NBA-best 46-3 this season, including 7-1 in the playoffs.
“To get to the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years for the Warriors, it’s more than relief. It’s joy,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Our players are feeling it and I know our fans are.”
James, 30, and Curry, 27, were both born in Akron, Ohio. Curry’s father Dell was playing for the Cavaliers when Steph was born but moved when his father went to another club. James became a prep star in Akron and later a top draft pick by Cleveland.
James sparked the Cavaliers to their first NBA Finals in 2007, when they were swept by San Antonio. When they failed to return over the next three years, James departed for Miami.
In Miami, James won two NBA titles and reached the finals twice more. He returned home vowing to revamp the Cavaliers, who couldn’t reach the playoffs without him, into champions.
“I hope everyone here understands that it’s not easy to even get to this point,” James said.
– Five in a row for LeBron –
James and reserve teammate James Jones, who spent the past four seasons in Miami, will become only the ninth and 10th players in NBA history to compete in the NBA Finals five years in a row. The only others were on the Boston Celtics dynasty that won nine titles in 10 consecutive trips to the final between 1957 and 1966.
James has averaged 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists a game in the post-season, adapting his roles as a separated left shoulder knocked out forward Kevin Love and left knee and right foot injuries slowed guard Kyrie Irving.
“That’s a major dilemma for everybody,” Kerr said of stopping James. “He’s a great player, physically so strong. You know he is going to have a huge impact on the game. You just try to limit him as much as you can.”
Curry has averaged 29.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists in the playoffs as defenders wonder how to limit him.
“Same way you slow me down — you can’t,” James said. “He never stops moving. His ballhandling, his ability to shoot the ball off the dribble and catch, it’s uncanny. He just creates so many matchup problems for your defense. You just have to always be aware.”
Curry had 286 3-pointers this season, breaking his old NBA record from two seasons ago by 14, and Klay Thompson was second in the league with 239.
Curry has made an NBA-record 73 3-pointers in the playoffs and Thompson was next best with 45.
– Title for rookie coach –
First-year NBA coaches will meet in the finals for the first time since the league’s inaugural season. Either Kerr or Cleveland’s Dave Blatt will become the first rookie coach of a champion since Pat Riley with the 1982 Los Angeles Lakers.
“I just try not to get involved with what I feel and what I am in all this,” Blatt said. “What I’m supposed to do is help my team win, coach this team to the best of my abilities, and the rest of the stuff is just story line.” – Agence France-Presse