Intellectually, the Cleveland Cavaliers probably would have preferred to play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals. After all, they’ve had great success against the Thunder and they would have had home-court advantage. Golden State, on the other hand, has won five straight games against Cleveland – three in last year’s Finals and two in the regular season – and will get to play Games 1 and 2 at ORACLE, where the Warriors are a combined 48-3 this season.
So the Cavs should be a little bummed right now, a little worried.
Only they’re not.
“Well, emotionally, I would say this is the matchup people wanted – not necessarily from a basketball perspective, but from an emotional perspective,” cleveland.com Cavs beat writer Chris Fedor said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think internally the Cavs wanted another crack at Golden State. They talked all offseason about how they thought the result would have been different if Kyrie Irving would have been healthy, if Kevin Love would have been healthy. So from a fan’s perspective, even though the Thunder probably would have provided an easier road to a championship for the Cavs, this is the matchup that a lot of people wanted because they want revenge against Golden State. And Golden State, here in this town, has become the Pittsburgh Steelers the Baltimore Ravens, the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers. They’re in that conversation with how much sports hate there is for the Warriors in this town.”
Some of that hate has to do with the Warriors beating the Cavs in the Finals. Some of it has to do with Draymond Green, who is perhaps the ultimate love-or-hate player in the game. But a lot of it, maybe most of it, has to do with Golden State and Steph Curry now being the dominant presence in the NBA. And while LeBron James may not personally dislike Curry because of that, it’s safe to say it bothers him.
“Absolutely, 100 percent,” Fedor said. “If you remember it, he said it in the postgame last year. I think it was following Game 5 of the NBA Finals. LeBron was asked, ‘Why do you still have confidence when you’ve lost two straight games against Golden State? You were once up 2-1 in the series and you’re now down 3-2.’ And his response was, ‘Because I’m the best player in the world.’ He does not like the attention away from his team. He always wants to be loved, he always wants to be the center of attention, and I do think it irks him that Steph Curry has become the most popular player in the NBA in terms of jersey sales. I think it irks him that the NBA has made this push with Steph Curry about potentially being the new face of the NBA. All of those things, I do think, bother LeBron. He would not admit it. I can’t imagine he would admit it even if the Cavs do win an NBA championship. But it’s something that I think fuels him going into these NBA Finals. I think he’s got more fuel going into these NBA Finals than he has had since losing to the Dallas Mavericks and him being the reason why the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks. I think that all goes back to the Warriors beating them last year and the attention that’s on Golden State and Steph Curry and the attention that’s taken away from the Cavs and LeBron.”
Game 1 is Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.