As fate would have it, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers will be competing in the 2018 NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year. Yawn. The experts in Las Vegas have already designated insane title odds to the Dubs, meaning the Cavs are the biggest (or tiniest? under-est?) underdogs since 2001, when Allen Iverson carried the 76ers to five noble games against Shaq, Kobe, Ty Lue, and the Lakers. However dreadfully these next 4-7 games play out, the least we can do is acknowledge that we’re watching history unfold. With a heavy emphasis on 2016, let’s take a look back at the best moments of the Warriors/Cavaliers saga.
7. Andre Saves the Series
With Kevin Love already out with a shoulder injury sustained earlier in the 2015 postseason, the Cavs took another blow in Game 1 of the 2015 Finals when Kyrie Irving fractured his left kneecap. Down two All-Stars, LeBron still managed to carry his depleted team to a 2-1 series lead. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr made an executive decision in response: insert Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup in place of Andrew Bogut. The Death Lineup — the original one, featuring Harrison Barnes instead of Kevin Durant — was born. Iguodala scored 22 points in Game 4, and his series-swinging defense on LeBron ultimately earned him Finals MVP honors.
6. Cavs’ Insane First Quarter
Down 3-0 to their seemingly inexhaustible rivals, the Cavaliers did what they had to do in Game 4 of the 2017 Finals: generate a record-breaking game. En route to handing the Warriors their first postseason loss of the year and avoiding a sweep, the Cavs scored 49 first-quarter points and 87 overall first-half points. The Cavs hit 24 total threes in the game, one short of their own playoffs record, set one year earlier against the Hawks.
5. Kevin’s Shot
With the Cavs up 113-111 with less than a minute left in Game 3 of the 2017 Finals, Kevin Durant made a gutsy choice. Off of a Kyle Korver miss that could have iced a Cavs win and actually made the series competitive, KD secured the rebound and took three seconds to dribble up to his spot on the left wing. He let it fly. LeBron was half a second too late on the contest, not that it would have mattered–it’s not like anyone can block a Durant jumper anyway. With the biggest shot of his career, Kevin put the Warriors up by one, enabling them to take a 3-0 lead over the Cavs and cementing his own case for 2017 Finals MVP.
4. Klay vs. LeBron
Klay Thompson, the most measured (read: chill) man in the NBA, had some choice words for a certain King James after Game 4 of the 2016 Finals. This came on the heels of LeBron talking about Draymond Green going “overboard” with his trash talk–the very talk that stemmed from LeBron stepping over Draymond, Draymond taking a shot at LeBron’s undercarriage, and Draymond eventually being suspended for Game 5. Klay concludes that LeBron’s feelings got hurt, and issues him a reminder: “this is a man’s league.” In response, LeBron laughed a lot, then won the next three games and the title.
3. Draymond vs. LeBron
That brings us to the altercation itself. In the fourth quarter of Game 4, Draymond set an interesting screen on LeBron, then flopped, then felt disrespected when LeBron stepped over him. The two argued for the rest of the play, but only a double foul was assessed. At the time, Draymond was one flagrant foul or two technicals away from suspension. Upon league review, he was penalized with a flagrant two days later and subsequently suspended for Game 5. Thus initiated a domino effect on a 73-win team blowing a 3-1 lead.
2. The Block
Mike Breen’s “BLOCKED BY JAMES!” ranks high on the list of top sports soundbites. With the title on the line late in Game 7, LeBron–described by Richard Jefferson as a “black blur”–came hurdling up the court as Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala thought they were enjoying a 2-on-1 fast break on J.R. Smith. The result? One of the most clutch moments of LeBron’s career.
1. The Shot
Game 7 of the 2016 Finals was one of the greatest contests in NBA history — until late in the fourth quarter, of course, when nobody could buy a bucket. Neither team had scored since the 4:39 mark, when Klay tied the game at 89; LeBron’s block on Iguodala came at the 1:50 mark, extending the scoring drought and deepening the tension. Finally — finally — Kyrie took Steph to school in classic Uncle Drew style, draining an absurd fadeaway three. Kyrie put the Cavs up by three with 53 seconds to go, and they never looked back. Steph and the Warriors continued to make terrible offensive decisions down the stretch, losing the title on their home floor. The Cavaliers made history as the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, and the city of Cleveland could finally enjoy its first major league sports championship in 52 years.
Honorable Mention: The Dunk That Would Have Shattered the Internet
Instead of dribbling out the shot clock with a three-point lead, LeBron tried to dunk Draymond into Middle Earth with just over ten seconds to go in Game 7. It didn’t work, and LeBron may or may not have hurt his wrist, but the idea of the completed dunk is absolutely tantalizing. It likely would have overtaken The Block as the lasting image of the historic series. LeBron was fouled and made one free throw to make it a two-possession game, putting the 2016 title out of reach for the Dubs.
Honorable Mention: J.R. Forever
J.R. Smith showed up to Game 4 of the 2015 Finals on a hoverboard.
He also abandoned shirts after winning the 2016 title.
President Obama personally requested, via Tyronn Lue, that J.R. resume wearing shirts.