OAKLAND, Calif. — The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors both believe they have more to offer than in years past as they meet for the third consecutive year in the NBA Finals beginning Thursday night.
The Warriors, by virtue of having compiled the best record in the league during the regular season, will host Game 1. They hold the home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series.
Golden State also enjoyed the home-court edge in the 2015 and 2016 Finals, capturing the title two years ago on Cleveland’s home floor in Game 6 before watching the Cavaliers celebrate in Oakland after Game 7 last season.
Having been held scoreless over the final 4:39 of the decisive Game 7 last year, the Warriors made the biggest splash of the NBA offseason when they signed high-scoring Kevin Durant in free agency.
Golden State has looked stronger than ever this postseason, having recorded consecutive four-game sweeps over the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs, becoming the first team in NBA history to reach the Finals with a 12-0 record.
Durant replaces Harrison Barnes, whose offensive struggles played a big role in the Warriors’ failure to repeat as champions in 2016.
Despite often being left unguarded as the Cavaliers focused on stopping Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Barnes shot 5 of 32 over the final three games as Cleveland rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the series.
Durant is shooting 89 of 160 (55.6 percent) so far in the playoffs, connecting on at least half his shots in each of his past six games.
The first-year Warrior is aware the Cavaliers, who made a 12-1 run through the Eastern Conference playoffs, have been impressive defensively in the postseason. They have limited the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics to 45 percent shooting, ranking third in that category during the playoffs after being barely average (16th, 45.8 percent) in the regular season.
“They stepped it up a level in the playoffs defensively,” Durant said of the Cavaliers. “It’s not like there’s going to be a lot of wide-open shots out there. But if we move the basketball and move our bodies, I think anybody can find a crack in the defense or some space to make a shot. But we’ve just got to take care of the basketball.”
Three-point shooting played a critical role in Cleveland’s success against the Warriors last June. The Cavaliers made 37.6 percent of their threes in their four wins, as opposed to just 26.1 percent in their three losses.
With in-season acquisition Kyle Korver having hit 22 of his 53 shots from beyond the arc (41.5 percent), the Cavaliers have been the most accurate 3-point shooting team in the 2017 playoffs, connecting on 43.5 percent.
“It’s amazing. Especially since this is Year 14 for me, for this to happen now, this means so much,” Korver said of his first trip to the Finals. “You work all summer, you work all season for so many years in a row hoping to get to this point. I don’t think it’s sunk in all the way yet, but it’s really special.”
Game 2 is scheduled for Sunday, also in Oakland.
The scene shifts to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4 on June 7 and June 9.