SAN FRANCISCO — LeBron James said memories of the Cavaliers’ rivalry with the Golden State Warriors will come flooding back when he walks into Oracle Arena today.
- Draymond Green’s suspension for Game 5 of the 2016 Finals.
- The block, the shot and the stop in Game 7 as the Cavs capped a historic rally from a 3-1 deficit to end Cleveland’s 52-year title drought.
- Stephen Curry’s mouthpiece hitting the son of Cavs minority owner Nathan Forbes in Game 6 in 2016.
- Green’s predictable and yet unpredictable antics.
- Andre Iguodala’s 2015 Finals MVP performance.
- Curry wondering if the visitors locker room at Quicken Loans Arena still smelled like champagne.
But as the two teams meet for the third consecutive Christmas after taking on each other in the last three Finals, Kevin Durant has occupied the Cavaliers’ minds.
James still regrets his defense on Durant’s dagger 3-pointer in the pivotal Game 3 of the 2017 Finals.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue admitted he’s been fixated on the poor defense on Durant in Game 1, when Durant scored 38 points with nine rebounds and eight assists in the Warriors’ 113-91 rout.
Today, Curry will sit out with a sprained right ankle that has already cost him seven games. Shaun Livingston (sore right knee) has missed the last three games and Zaza Pachulia (left shoulder soreness) the last six.
Since 2014-15, the Warriors are 12-6 without Curry. But the Cavs know Durant is more than capable of turning the ABC game into his personal showcase.
Durant is averaging 26.3 points (fourth in the league), 7.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.21 blocks (second in the league), shooting 50.3 percent from the field and 38 percent from 3-point range.
But on his way to being voted 2017 Finals MVP, Durant was even more deadly against the Cavs. He averaged 35.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.6 blocks, hitting 55.6 percent from the field, 47.4 on threes and 92.7 from the free throw line.
James still thinks about Durant’s three over his outstretched hands with 45.3 seconds left that gave the Warriors a 114-113 lead in Game 3 of the Finals. The Warriors went on to win 118-113 in Cleveland, taking a 3-0 lead and winning the series 4-1.
“It was a big-time shot. It was a big-time shot,” James said Sunday before practice at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. “I wish I could have that play over again. I was a little bit too far off of him. I still got a great contest, but I was still too far off of him.
“I wish I could have that play back, but you can’t. But it was a big-time moment for him, obviously. They played exceptionally well last year in the Finals. He was definitely the difference-maker.”
That wasn’t the game Lue went back to see. He studied Game 1, when Durant hit 14 of 26 field goals, 3 of 6 3-pointers and 7 of 8 free throws and finished with a plus/minus of plus-16.
“Game 1, we just gave KD too many easy dunks and layups right in the middle of the floor, trying to get to the shooters with Steph and Klay (Thompson) and he took advantage of that,” Lue said. “Getting to the middle, into the paint, lot of easy shots to get him started. When you’ve got a great player like that, can’t give him easy baskets like that to start the game.”
Lue said last year’s Finals loss still carries some emotion.
“I mean, there’s always feelings attached when you lose in the Finals. Because that’s the ultimate goal — to get to the Finals and win the championship,” Lue said. “You always think about that, but that’s over. We’ve got a new team, they’ve got some new additions, new pieces, so we’ll see what happens.”
Five of the Cavs’ seven new key contributors will play today, which could change the dynamic of the game, especially Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade and Jae Crowder. But even with three days since the Cavs last played, Lue said he did not install any new sets.
“We’re not trying to trick anyone,” he said. “They know what we run, we know what they run. Just gotta stop it. The biggest thing is just see how the new guys react to something that’s been going on the last three years. See how they react to the game.
“For us, we want to win every game, but we understand we want to get better throughout the season so we can be playing our best basketball going into April. It will be a good challenge for us.”
Wade said he doesn’t believe he will get a true feeling for the rivalry in a Christmas game.
“I definitely look forward to seeing what it’s like and hopefully I will be able to see that in June,” Wade said. “That will be what it’s really like. I know everybody doesn’t believe players — you shouldn’t — when they say, ‘Aw, it’s just another game.’ It is another game, but it’s one of the best teams in the league. You get up for the better teams in the league.
“But it’s not going to show the rivalry as much. Especially when everyone’s not playing from either team. I will enjoy playing in this environment, on Christmas versus this team in their building. They’ve got one of the biggest fan bases in the world. It’s going to be a great environment to play in.”
For some in the Cavs front office, Game 3 of the Finals is the one that sticks with them. But that’s not the case with James.
“I’ve lost five Finals. What are you going to do about it?” James said. “What’s going to stick with me is seeing my daughter smile. Seeing my kids graduate high school, college. Hopefully my daughter will go off and meet the man of her dreams. That’s what’s going to stick with me.
“I keep telling you all, these games and wins and losses, yeah, I love it, but it’s not the be all and end all for me. I’ve had so many moments in this game that I’m going to cherish. But Game 3 in the Finals or a game there, I’m good. I don’t lose sleep anymore.”