By JOHN DORN
At long last, Game 1 of the NBA Finals is finally upon us. The Golden State Warriors host the Cleveland Cavaliers in what should be an action-packed series.
With Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving both affected by injuries, LeBron James has nearly single-handedly thrust Cleveland back to its first Finals since 2007. After a relatively subdued regular season, James' postseason rampage sets up a classic NBA heavyweight bout—well, not literally—between himself and MVP Stephen Curry.
Considering LeBron was attending Curry's college games as a fan less than seven years ago, the matchup is one of the most interesting in recent history. The most dominant player in the world takes on the league's biggest surprise team, led by one of the most exciting players ever.
LeBron versus Steph has the makings of one of the most entertaining Finals head-to-heads ever. But how have the pair fared against each other this season?
Curry vs. Cleveland
These two teams faced off twice in the regular season, with each team winning at home. Cleveland was a very different squad in these two, with LeBron only suiting up for the second game and Kevin Love part of the starting five. Predictably, Curry fared well in Golden State's victory and disappointed in its loss.
Against the sans-LeBron Cavs on Jan. 9, Curry went for 23 points and 10 assists on 8-of-13 shooting, drilling three triples and turning it over just once. Klay Thompson actually led the team in scoring with 24, as six Warriors scored in double digits.
The two teams next faced off on Feb. 26 in Cleveland, this time with a healthy James and Iman Shumpert. With the Cavs at full strength, they took the game handily by double-digits—Golden State's fifth loss of the season. Curry put up 18 points but needed 17 shots to get there. He sank just five field goals while turning it over four times—he missed nine of his last 10 attempts from the field.
Curry was often left open by Irving and J.R. Smith, and was guarded by Shumpert just twice (two misses). With Irving hobbled, expect David Blatt to assign Shumpert on Curry more often, possibly limiting him similarly.
James versus Golden State
The teams' first matchup fell during James' two-week sabbatical, but he returned for the Feb. 26 contest—and, boy, did he ever.
LeBron dropped a season-high 42 points against the Dubs, shooting 15-of-25, grabbing 11 rebounds and tying for the team lead with five assists. He shot four-of-nine from three-point range, which is noteworthy given his recent struggles from distance. In the postseason, he's made just 12-of-68 threes, or a woeful 17.6 percent.
Few teams can handle James with a one-on-one matchup, and the Warriors obviously struggled with it back in February. But Golden State is perhaps the most equipped to do so, with Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson all capable of at least containing James for spot assignments.
With Love out of the lineup and Irving hobbled, the Warriors should be able to focus more attention to LeBron with less risk.
James has shot extremely poorly, against his standards, this postseason, at just 42.8 percent over 14 games. He's getting to the line seven times a game though, which has helped the cause. He's also averaging team highs with 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 1.8 steals while blocking 1.3 shots per night.
Part of a much more balance attack, Curry has averaged 21.1 shots to James' 24.9. Still, he's outscored James, posting 29.2 points on average at a 46.1 shooting clip. His five made threes per game account for more than half of his scoring average. He leads the team with 6.4 assists nightly, distributing enough for Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes to all average double-figures.
Golden State is favored by a hefty margin in the series, but considering the way James has carried his roster over recent weeks, he's sure to make every game a competitive one. Watching him duel with Curry, the leader of the NBA's most dominant team in 2015, will definitely be a must-see event.