In a matchup featuring one of the all-time NBA greats in LeBron James versus the league's Most Valuable Player in Stephen Curry, the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors tip off Thursday night in Oakland, California.
The 2014-15 NBA season marked the beginning of James's second stint with the Cavaliers. The team drafted the Akron high school phenom back in 2003. He played in Cleveland until 2010. James led the team to the 2007 NBA Finals, where they were swept by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. After a four-year dalliance with the Miami Heat, which resulted in four straight trips to the Finals and two NBA titles, James returned to the Cavaliers last year.
Nearing the end of his first season back in Cleveland, LeBron James has the Cavaliers on the cusp of the city's first pro sports championship in 51 years. Not since Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns captured the 1964 NFL championship has the second-largest city in Ohio hosted a title celebration.
The last time the Warriors reached the Finals in 1975, former NBA player Al Attles was the head coach. Hall of Fame shooting guard Rick Barry, along with center Clifford Ray and guard Butch Beard, led the team to a championship over the Washington Bullets in four games.
This year, the Warriors are coached by former NBA player and TV analyst Steve Kerr, who let Stephen Curry and backcourt mate Klay Thompson loose on opposing defenses all season long. Curry averaged almost 24 points per game in the regular season, while Thompson averaged nearly 22, resulting in a 67-win season. In 15 playoff games so far this spring, Curry is scoring nearly 30 points per contest and Thompson nearly 20.
Another force for Golden State during their postseason run has been second-year forward Draymond Green, who has produced 14 points and nearly 11 rebounds per game.
Though James has shown in the past that he can take over games through sheer will, he has received help as Cleveland has advanced in the playoffs. Point guard Kyrie Irving, when healthy, has been a dynamic alternative to James. He averaged almost 22 points a game in the regular season. However, injuries have hampered his postseason. Australian Matthew Dellavedova has come off the bench to provide a spark, primarily on the defensive end.
The other major postseason surprise for Cleveland has been forward-center Tristan Thompson, who has assumed more of a defensive role since Kevin Love suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs' first round.
The first two games of the best-of-seven NBA Finals will be played in California, with Game 2 scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern, Sunday. Games 3 and 4 will be played in Cleveland, starting next Tuesday night at 9 p.m. Eastern.
You can watch Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night at 9 p.m. Eastern, on ABC.