All season long, we've been waiting for what has felt like an inevitable Finals rematch between the Cavs and Warriors. Now that Round 3 is upon us, here's a look back at how these super teams were built.
Compiled by Leo Sepkowitz
Illustrations by Ptitecao Studio - Caroline Blanchet
The Warriors hire Steve Kerr.
The Cavaliers win the lottery.
LeBron returns to Cleveland. “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there…I feel my calling here goes above basketball…[I] want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up…Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get. In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”
— LeBron James to Sports Illustrated
The Cavs acquire Kevin Love. Even with LeBron—and Kyrie—aboard, Cleveland needed to add one more established piece. In Minnesota, Kevin Love had just one year remaining on his contract, making him a prime trade target. After weeks of speculation, Cleveland acquired Love for a package headlined by 2014’s No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Wiggins.
Golden State wins 16 games in a row
The Cavs acquire JR Smith and Iman Shumpert. “I kept thinking back to my old teammates [in New York] like, ‘Damn, I was hurt and we were losing,’” Shumpert told HoopsHype this year, looking back. “Now I come here and I’m playing well and the energy is great. I just felt like [Cleveland] kind of grabbed me out of hell. Every game was being showcased on TV and we’re winning. It was just crazy.”
Kevin Love dislocates his shoulder vs Boston and is out for the postseason.
The Warriors win Game 1 of the Finals in OT as Kyrie Irving fractures his kneecap. Here’s a what-if for you: In Game 1, in the waning seconds of regulation, LeBron misfired on a game-winning jumper. Shumpert then barely missed an off-balance floater at the buzzer. If either shot falls, Cleveland goes up 1-0—stealing home-court advantage—and Irving doesn’t injure himself in OT. The Cavs won the next two games anyway, even without Kyrie. Would they have won it all had they secured a dramatic Game 1 victory? How would a ’15 Cleveland title have affected the League? We’ll never know…
Golden State wins the 2015 NBA Finals; Andre Iguodala is named Finals MVP.
The Warriors begin the ’15-16 season 24-0.
The Cavs fire coach David Blatt. The Cavaliers were 30-11 under Blatt during the ’15-16 season. They’d go 27-14 the rest of the way under Tyronn Lue. LeBron had averaged 25 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists while shooting 50 percent that season under Blatt. Those numbers bumped to 25.5, 8 and 7.5 at 54 percent under Lue.
The Warriors secure win no. 73. “I never thought anybody would ever come close to breaking the record when I was lucky enough to be a part of it [with Chicago in ’96],” Steve Kerr told reporters after the game. “The goal,” Stephen Curry added, “is to win a championship.”
Klay Thompson saves Golden State in Game 6 vs OKC with a playoff-record 11 threes. “He gets in these zones where, on his catch and shoot, he’s just unconscious,” Jarron Collins, a Warriors assistant, told SLAM. “Given the magnitude and pressure of that moment, that was truly a special performance, but that’s Klay.”
FOURTH QUARTER 11:26 remaining, Thompson hits a 3; Warriors down 5. 9:53 remaining, Thompson hits a 3; Warriors down 4. 8:37 remaining, Thompson hits a 3; Warriors down 5. 5:33 remaining, Thompson hits a layup; Warriors down 5. 4:56 remaining, Thompson hits a 3; Warriors down 4. 1:35 remaining, Thompson hits a 3; Warriors up 3. 0:08 remaining, Thompson hits two free throws. Game over.
The 2016 NBA Finals begin.
Draymond Green hits LeBron James in the groin and is suspended for the next game; Warriors go up 3-1 in the series.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving lead Cleveland to a Game 5 win. LeBron and Kyrie each scored 41 points in Game 5, becoming the first teammates to hang 40+ in an NBA Finals game. The duo shot 33-54 from the floor. The Warriors, as a team, shot 32-88.
The Cavaliers win Game 7. “I’m home,” James told ESPN after the win. “I’m home. This is what I came back for. I’m at a loss for words. This doesn’t feel real right now.”
Kevin Durant announces he’s joining Golden State. Kevin Durant announces he’s joining Golden State.
“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player—as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”
— Kevin Durant via The Players’ Tribune
Kyrie Irving's game-winning shot beats the Warriors on Christmas Day.
The 2017 NBA Playoffs begin. Golden State won 67 games to earn the No. 1 seed out West. Cleveland won 51 and settled for No. 2 in the East. The Warriors are the League’s best team, LeBron the League’s best player. Las Vegas clearly thinks Golden State and Cleveland are on a collision course—the odds of them meeting in the NBA Finals were about 1:1 at the beginning of the postseason. All signs point to Warriors-Cavaliers, Round 3. Only question left is, Who takes home the ’chip?