By Thomas Schlachter, CNN
The Akron General Medical Center, Ohio — the birthplace of the modern NBA‘s greatest matchup and where our story starts.
From that very day, the journeys of two of basketball’s all-time greats have been forever intertwined. Now the matchup that dominated basketball in the late 2010s is back again for round five, as the pair square off in the Western Conference semifinals.
How both teams got here?
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers took down the Memphis Grizzlies 4-2 in the opening round of the playoffs.
In a matchup that was just as exciting off the court as it was on the hardwood floor, the experience of the Lakers showed as the young Grizzlies lacked the cutting edge to get over the line.
In another battle of the old vs. the young, the Golden State Warriors beat the Sacramento Kings in an exhilarating seven-game series.
Along the way, both Curry and James broke records to set up what will be the most talked about encounter of the 2023 NBA playoffs.
Golden State sharpshooter Klay Thompson said he has “waited for this for 12 years,” as he faces his dad’s former franchise, and teammate Draymond Green spoke to reporters on the legacy of James vs. the Warriors.
“This series against the Lakers is going to be epic, you’ve got Steph, you’ve got ‘Bron, doing it all over again,” he said.
“Stop trying to turn the page on us so fast,” Green added. “Stop trying to turn the page on Bron so fast. We get so caught up in what’s the next thing that we don’t appreciate the current.”
After years of experience against the Warriors, James knows the Lakers have to be on top of their game.
“You’ve got to be super-duper locked in,” the 19-time All-Star said, per the LA Times. “You can’t make a mistake. You just can’t. You can’t make a mistake or they’ll make you pay. It’s literally that simple. Some teams that I’ve played in my career that’s had that notion on you and they’re one of them.”
Battles of old
The first NBA Finals matchup between LeBron and Steph was in 2015. The up-and-coming Warriors were the new kids on the block and, led by MVP Curry, were the best team in the NBA that year with an incredible 67-15 record.
Steve Kerr’s Warriors waltzed through to the NBA Finals, only losing three games in the Western Conference playoffs, and Golden State met LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals.
The Cavs had only dropped two games on their route to the Finals and James was on fire heading into the marquee matchup.
The Finals turned out to be a straight shootout between the two stars of their respective teams. James averaged an incredible 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists and Curry led the Warriors averaging 26 points and 6.3 assists.
Despite James’ heroic efforts, the Warriors sealed the 2015 Finals with a 4-2 series win and cemented their status as the most exciting team in the NBA.
The Cavaliers and the Warriors met again for an NBA Finals rematch the following year.
Dub Nation somehow improved on their 2014-15 record and surpassed the 1996 Chicago Bulls and their 72-10 record — finishing the season 73-9.
Chef Curry was the back-to-back regular season MVP — winning the vote unanimously after averaging 30.1 points, 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds in his team’s historic campaign.
Despite the Cavs topping the East, they were the heavy underdogs heading into the Finals against the Warriors and their three-point heavy offensive game.
The Finals looked like it was going according to the script with the Warriors taking a 3-1 series lead, but LeBron had other ideas in what turned out to be the comeback of all comebacks.
The King James and Kyrie Irving double team rallied back brilliantly for the Cavs and led Cleveland to a historic title.
Finals MVP James finished the series averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 8.9 assists to go with Kyrie’s 27.1 points-per-game.
The moment of the series has also become an iconic NBA play. LeBron’s incredible chasedown block on Warriors forward Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the Finals was the statement of the matchup — the brilliant defensive effort is now widely referred to as just “The Block” because of the magnitude of the stop.
The Golden State Warriors responded to their 2016 Finals loss by recruiting Kevin Durant in the off-season. The added scoring of “The Slim Reaper” turned the Warriors into a certified super team and they were once again favorites to go all the way to land another ring.
The Cavs and the Warriors met for the first time this season during an incredible Christmas Day clash. The Cavaliers won in a dramatic 109-108 game and with the victory also took the bragging rights ahead of a potential Finals matchup.
Come the end of the season, the Warriors topped the West, whereas the Cavs were only good enough for a second-placed finish behind the Boston Celtics in the East. This difference in quality was plain to see in the Finals.
Durant’s addition put a stop to the competitiveness of the previous clash of the titans as the six-foot-10-inch forward marched the Warriors to an easy Finals win.
Durant won the Finals MVP averaging 35.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 5.4 assists with LeBron’s remarkable triple-double average proving to be for nothing in the 4-1 Warriors series win.
After the loss, Irving was off in search of pastures new and left LeBron to fight the Warriors’ dominance alone.
The 2017-18 regular season suggested that the dominance shared between Golden State and Cleveland was finally coming to an end.
James Harden and the Houston Rockets topped the West, with the Cleveland Cavaliers finishing fourth in the opposite conference.
Yet, the playoff experience and dominance from either side proved to come in clutch and a fourth straight Finals matchup beckoned for both teams.
In the most mismatched matchup between the two teams the Warriors swept the Cavaliers, winning four straight games in an underwhelming final battle between two-modern day greats.
Following a disappointing end to his second stint with the Cavaliers, LeBron moved across to the West and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Finally, five years down the line, we have a chance to see LeBron’s Lakers against Steph’s Warriors in a matchup between two certified superstars — and this time without Durant’s input.
With the Western Conference wide open, whoever wins this matchup will feel that nothing can stop them from winning it all.
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