2017 NBA Finals loaded with stars, historical implications


— This NBA Finals is in uncharted territory.

For the third consecutive year, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are facing off with the title on the line. The Cavaliers, who in 2016 ended a sports title drought the city of Cleveland had been living under since 1964, are aiming to repeat. The Warriors, who won the title in 2015, are out for revenge.

This is the first time in NBA history that the same two teams are meeting in the NBA Finals for three straight seasons. To take it further, never has there been a championship “rubber match” — the third installment between two teams that would break the tie — in any other North American professional team sport. Until now.

This trilogy, which is scheduled to end in mid-June, will leave either Golden State or Cleveland with bragging rights.

“It’s definitely unique,” Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said. “It’s nothing you can take for granted. Even though we have the best player in the world (LeBron James) on our team, you still can’t take it for granted. Health plays a part, a lot of things play a part in this. So going to The Finals three straight years, you have to enjoy it. You have to relish the moment.

“But now that we are here, we have business to take care of.”

How rare is it for the same two teams to meet three years in a row with a championship on the line? It’s only happened once in each of the other major North American professional sports — and the last instance was more than half a century ago, when the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens battled for the Stanley Cup from 1954-1956. The Red Wings won the first two Cups, while Montreal hoisted the third.

In the NFL — before the Super Bowl era began — the Detroit Lions topped the Cleveland Browns in 1952 and 1953, with the Browns getting retribution in 1954.

You have to go back even further for a Major League Baseball trilogy, and it all took place in New York City. The New York Giants got the best of the New York Yankees in back-to-back seasons, winning the World Series in 1921 and 1922.

But in 1923, the Yankees, playing their home games in the original, brand-new Yankee Stadium, got the best of the Giants, winning the World Series in six games. That Yankees’ roster was packed with Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock.

Which brings this back to present day. Unbelievably, this already-loaded Warriors’ roster from last year — led by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — got better by adding superstar Kevin Durant. He’s seeking his first title and is second for the Warriors in scoring with 25.2 points per game this postseason.

“I can’t go out there and do everything on my own, or I can’t go out there and just let my teammates do all the work for me,” Durant said. “I got to do my part and we all got to make it come together as a group.”

The Warriors also have a likely healthier Curry, their leading scorer. In the first round of the 2016 playoffs against the Houston Rockets, Curry suffered a sprained MCL, and he didn’t look like himself in the NBA Finals.

Ahead of this year’s series, Curry says he has some swelling in his right elbow and will probably wear a shooting sleeve. But he has downplayed it, saying that the elbow doesn’t hurt and that he feels “totally different” physically heading into this year’s NBA Finals compared to 2016.

“Obviously not really dealing with any bumps or bruises really besides this elbow, that’s not really a factor,” Curry said. “So other than that, feeling fresh.”

Like the Warriors, the Cavaliers enter this year’s Finals healthy. For the third time in a row, they aren’t favored, but they have a deep bench and several great 3-point shooters. When those shots are falling, it opens things up for James, giving him the option to drive to the basket or post up.

In 2015, James carried the Cavaliers on his back when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love went down with injuries. James again led the way in 2016, but he had their help, including Irving’s dagger three to close out Game 7.

James, who took home NBA Finals MVP honors last year, is the only non-Boston Celtic to reach the NBA Finals seven years in a row, that in its own a massive feat. He’s going for his fourth title.

“I don’t like to be satisfied too much,” James said. “Because then you become complacent. But it was a reward because when you set out a goal and you’re able to achieve that reward or achieve that goal, like all of us, then it’s rewarding and you feel good about it.”

“But I’m not a complacent person. After we were able to accomplish that last year and we celebrated for a few days, I got right back to work, mentally and physically get my body ready because I wanted to be able to put myself and put our teammates and put our franchise in position where we had an opportunity to do it again.”

The Warriors are 12-0 in these playoffs, becoming the first NBA team to accomplish the feat, and the Cavaliers are 12-1. The NBA hasn’t had a championship series in which both teams reached The Finals with one loss or fewer in the playoffs since the 1950s, when teams played far fewer postseason games before The Finals.

It’s tough to get more even than this. And with these star-studded teams, this may not be over even after this NBA Finals “tiebreaker.” Could these teams return in 2018? Right now, the way the league is constructed, it just might happen.