When this season began, the expectation was that the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers would meet for a fourth straight time in the NBA Finals.
Now, the NBA heads into Memorial Day weekend with a seemingly unfathomable scenario unfolding: first the Cavaliers, and then the Warriors, hosting games that could end their seasons.
That’s not how this was supposed to happen. Cleveland and, in particular, Golden State, were supposed to roll through the playoffs. But here we are, staring at the two teams that have ruled the league for four years both on the brink.
Cleveland will first welcome the Boston Celtics to Quicken Loans Arena Friday night. Boston — a dreadful road team this postseason, going just 1-6 away from the friendly confines of TD Garden — will try to become the first team to dethrone LeBron James in the East since … the Celtics, when they beat James in 2010 to end his first stint in Cleveland with a resounding thud.
The circumstances this time are different. The Cavaliers have won a championship this time, and have made the Finals the past three years in a row. This year’s team wildly and unpredictably swings from one pole to the other, never providing a good barometer on a game-to-game basis for how it will perform.
Still, it’s hard to see James and the Cavaliers losing this game, in part because it’s just hard to ever see him losing a game that matters. As the greatest player of his generation, James always seems to find a way to get it done when it counts. But the Celtics’ wretched play away from Boston also factors in. Will that change in a road elimination game against James? That seems like a bridge too far for a team that couldn’t close out the Milwaukee Bucks in the same situation two rounds ago.
Stopping James is just a bit harder than that.
For the league, though, there’s nothing better than a potential holiday weekend full of climatic action, with the league’s two most iconic teams fighting for their playoff lives.