OAKLAND — Memories of being dethroned as champions last year by the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history spur the Golden State Warriors in a redemption quest against Cleveland in this year’s rematch.
The third consecutive best-of-seven title showdown between the Warriors and Cavaliers opens Thursday with Golden State’s 2015 win and Cleveland’s stinging rally from 3-1 down last June adding to the anticipated drama for two superstar-filled squads.
“It obviously still hurts a lot… It kills you. But we learned from it,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “You can feel that redemption. It’s natural. Beat the guys who beat you.
“But you just have that in the back of your mind. Don’t let it overtake what’s at stake, but you can feel a little redemption if you want. Whatever gets you going. Our fans definitely feel that way.”
They figure to be electrified for the opener after watching the Cavaliers celebrate their first crown on the Warriors’ court in a seventh-game thriller.
“It has been a great motivating factor,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “I have great memories of (2015) and terrible memories of last year, but they’re both lessons you can learn going into this series.
“We know some of their tendencies and just have a better familiarity with how we’re going to be successful against them. But, yeah, I don’t want to feel what I felt last year. Going to do everything in my power to attack every game with that perspective.
“You have to learn from it. You can’t hold on to it. You use it as fuel.”
Cavaliers star LeBron James, who sparked the fightback last year to bring his beloved Cleveland its first major sports crown in 52 years, knows the Warriors have extra motivation.
“We’re going to face adversity,” James said. “They have been the best team in the league the last three years and they have added an incredible player in Kevin Durant.
“They’re going to challenge us offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We’ve got to be up for the challenge.
“I feel very good about our chances. Very good.”
– Warriors seek ‘dynasty’ tag –
The Warriors are off to the best start in NBA playoff history at 12-0, but they had won a record 73 regular season games last season and felt empty when they couldn’t win the title.
“What happened in the past in my mind doesn’t really count now unless we go out and finish the deal,” Thompson said.
And familiarity has most assuredly bred contempt as well as respect on both sides.
“Whenever you’re in the playoffs against a team a bunch of times, you start to get annoyed a little bit because you know the other guy and you want to kick his butt and you want to outplay him every possession,” Cleveland center Tristan Thompson said.
Warriors forward Draymond Green shrugged off any redemption notion, saying the desire to become a dynasty matters more than revenge.
“Goal is to win a championship. I don’t really think you need extra motivation to do that,” Green said. “I don’t know if 3-1 has been mentioned in our locker room one time this year.
“When you’re chasing greatness, that’s the expectation. You don’t need something to motivate you. For us that’s the goal anyway, to try to build a dynasty and be great each and every time we step on the floor. That’s all the motivation we need.”
– Opener will set the tone –
Cleveland’s desire to defend the title is mighty as well and they know the opener is crucial.
“It sets the tone for the rest of the series, so we’re going to have to come out and be ready,” Cavs forward Kevin Love said. “I know from a preparation standpoint we’re going to be ready.”
That means poise under pressure and handling the emotions of the moment.
“We understand the intensity this will be at emotionally. It’s natural to feel all those things. So it will be exciting,” said Cavs guard Kyrie Irving. “But the quicker you settle into your surroundings, the better you’ll be.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says containing the NBA’s top-scoring team is vital.
“We’ve got to come in with a defensive mindset and I think our best defense is going to be our offense,” Lue said. “We can’t turn the basketball over, we have to take good shots. We have to have great floor balance because this team is dangerous in transition.”
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