Ever since Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointer sailed over Stephen Curry’s outstretched arms and through the basket in the waning moments of Game 7 of last year’s N.B.A. finals, serving as a dagger to finish off one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports, there has been an inevitability about another finals rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
The 82-game regular season — and the first three rounds of the playoffs, which begin Saturday — were all but declared a formality leading up to Cavaliers-Warriors III even before the Warriors signed All-Pro Kevin Durant to go with the All-Pros Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Curry (Click LOLGA to view more NBA news )
, making their super team, for lack of a better word, superer.
But despite all signs (other than Cleveland’s recent defensive collapse) pointing to the prophecy coming to fruition, it is worth noting that in the N.B.A.’s long playoff history the same two teams have never met in the finals three years in a row. Not during the 1960s, when the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers reigned supreme. Not in the 1980s, when only five teams hogged all 20 spots in the finals. And not recently, when the Eastern Conference finalist has been “whichever team LeBron James is playing for.”
Perhaps as a result of the presumption that the finals participants were predetermined, 2016-17 became a season-long celebration of the individual. The battle for the Most Valuable Player Award between Russell Westbrook and James Harden was decidedly epic, and a three-way race for defensive player of the year between Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert and Green inspired countless debates. Postgame analysis often boiled down to which players were friends rather than which team played better, and the Warriors shuffled along to the team’s third consecutive season of 67 or more wins with no one seeming surprised or impressed.