CLEVELAND, Ohio – There will be a significant revenge factor in the 2016 NBA Finals.
LeBron James is waiting to see on which side of it he’ll sit.
The Cavaliers are heading to their second consecutive Finals, having dumped the Toronto Raptors 113-87 Friday night to finish the Eastern finals, 4-2.
Their opponent will either be the Golden State Warriors or the Oklahoma City Thunder – the two will play Game 7 of the Western finals Monday.
James and most of his teammates obviously have a score to settle with the Warriors that dates back oh, about a year, when Golden State beat them in the 2015 Finals.
The Thunder have that same score to settle with James from 2012, and are just as eager, if not more so, to have that chance.
After Game 6 in Toronto, James said he didn’t appreciate reaching the Finals last year – basically because he knew he was screwed. Kevin Love was already out with a major shoulder injury, and Kyrie Irving was hobbling into the series, only to break his knee cap at the end of Game 1.
LeBron’s sixth straight Finals feels different
And yet, James and the teammates left standing gave the Warriors quite a scare. Cleveland took a 2-1 lead in that series, winning Game 3 at home, before the bottom fell out.
James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists against Golden State — the highest collective averages of any player in NBA Finals history. He scored 40 percent of Cleveland’s points. But Andre Iguodala, not James, won Finals MVP.
James would’ve been the first player to win the Finals MVP but lose the series since Jerry West in 1969 – a dubious honor to be sure one that nevertheless would’ve crystalized just how good James was against Golden State.
With Irving and Love back and healthy, and with additions like Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson, Cleveland is infinitely deeper than it was at this time a year ago. James is playing a completely style now, sharing the scoring lead with Irving this postseason (24.6 ppg to 24.3 ppg, respectively), and is otherwise appreciating this trip to the Finals.
“Having these guys right here at full strength, having our team at full strength, and the way I feel personally, I appreciate this moment, to be able to be a part of it and to be there once again,” James said.
James has also finished third in the last two votes for the regular-season MVP to Stephen Curry, and isn’t at all happy about it. The two have gotten a little snippy at one another through the media.
A postseason of slights for LeBron
The two-time reigning MVP, Curry, versus James, the four-time MVP, would make for a wildly entertaining sidebar. Curry is pushing furiously to replace James as the face of the league.
Thing is, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant thought he’d be the one making that same push.
Durant was just 23 when he and Russell Westbrook (also 23) faced James and the Miami Heat in the 2012 Finals. The series belonged to James.
The Heat not only won the series in five games — James’ first of two titles with the Heat — but James was named Finals MVP with averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. Durant nearly matched James point for point in the series, but James presence on the glass and as a distributor was too much.
Durant did win an NBA MVP in 2014, but the Thunder haven’t been back to the Finals. James, meanwhile, is playing for a championship for the sixth consecutive season.
Injuries totally derailed Durant and the Thunder last season, limiting him to just 27 games and forcing Oklahoma City to miss the playoffs. Westbrook missed virtually all of the 2013 playoffs with a torn meniscus and was limited to 46 games the following season with another knee surgery.
In other words, it’s been a struggle for the Thunder since their first Finals meeting with James. If Durant and Westbrook can somehow get past the Warriors in Game 7, they will have made it all the way back.
And they’ll be looking for revenge.