LeBron’s Finals deja vu

Jun 1, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) defends against Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the third quarter in game one of the 2017 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 1, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) defends against Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the third quarter in game one of the 2017 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

Will the 2017 NBA Finals resemble one of LeBron James’ past Finals appearances?

LeBron James is 1-7 in Game 1’s and so, perhaps, given that the single victory came in James’ eventual loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, Game 1 is often just a feel-out game for the King.

Nonetheless, all of the major participants of the Warriors-Cavaliers trilogy will have mental flashbacks and influences from the last 2 NBA Finals appearances. Or in Kevin Durant’s case, the 2012 NBA Finals.

Deja vu can hit from unexpected sources, especially for a photographic memory like James’, as detailed ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. There is a wide range of possible outcomes for Cavaliers – Warriors III.

In the aftermath of Game 1’s blowout, it looks like the possible outcomes for the remainder of the series should be referenced from the spectrum of James’ last seven NBA Finals appearances.

Remember, James is 1-7 in Game 1’s of the NBA Finals and 3-4 in the series overall.

Worst-case for Cleveland Cavaliers – 2014 NBA Finals

San Antonio Spurs defeat Miami Heat in 5 games (Warriors in 5, or less):

This is the situation where the defending champion runs into a stronger version of the exact team they defeated in an iconic seven-game series the year before. Thus, leading to large rematch hype.

Unfortunately, James and the Heat were blown-out in five games by the largest margin in NBA Final history.

Last season, Kyrie Irving played the Ray Allen role in the clutch, making the game-winning shot in Game 7. With the Heat, James received little help from his teammates in the 2014 NBA Finals.

Despite being the best individual performer in the series statistically, the opposing small forward, Kevin Durant, wins the NBA Finals MVP award a la Kawhi Leonard.

Worst Case for Golden State – 2011 NBA Finals

Dallas Mavericks defeat Miami Heat in 6 games (Cavaliers in 6, or more):

In this Miami Heat analogy, the Warriors are now the team filling the shoes of the Heat.

Which is ironic because James is now filling the shoes of Dirk Nowitzki playing against his former “choking” self (bear with me).

The Warrior’s two star players, who are playing together for their first season seem to be cruising their way to an easy championship. Suddenly, the opposition Cavaliers become red-hot.

The Warriors crumble under the pressure, unable to determine their proper pecking order in clutch moments.

The Ramifications

While James was on the Heat instead of the Cavs in these examples, they’re nonetheless relevant examples under the current circumstances. The Warriors blew out the Cavs in January.  On the other end of the spectrum, there was the 2016 Christmas Day thriller that saw the Cavs pulling off the comeback victory thanks to Irving’s game-winner and Durant stumbling on the ensuing inbounds play.

We don’t know exactly how the 2017 NBA Finals will unfold.

If you’re rooting for the Warriors to win, you’re probably hoping it’s a lot like James’ NBA Finals loss in 2014.

For Cavs fans, you’re hoping it’s like “Back to the Future” and James gets to rewrite the script for 2011 by defeating the superteam of all superteams.

As of right now, the situation is nearly identical to last year going into Game 2.  Only this time, there’s that Durant guy.

The Biggest Question

Will the Cavs leave James on Durant?

SBNation’s Mike Prada broke down the various matchup possibilities ahead of Game 1 and it seems like in that game, James was trying to do too much on the defensive end.  Playing help defense is very difficult while guarding a supremely gifted scorer like Durant.

Perhaps, we’ll see Tristan Thompson on Durant. There’s not really another viable defender for the Cavs to try unless they hope to roll back the clock on Richard Jefferson or dust off Derrick Williams, as Joe Vardon of cleveland.com suggests they could.

Freeing James from Durant would allow him to move onto Green. That matchup could allow him to leave his man off-the-ball and wreak havoc in the passing lanes and on shot contests with his play recognition, athleticism and 7-foot-0 wingspan.

Even with Green shooting 44.8 percent from three-point range this postseason, the Cavs should take their chances with Green shooting rather than Durant. Green has shot 33.4 percent from behind the arc for his career and was shooting 30.8 percent from behind-the-line in the regular season.

2017 NBA Finals MVP

Could James keep Durant in check if he solely focuses on just that?

James typically has the upper hand against Durant. SBNation’s Tim Cato discussed their head-to-head record and matchup following the Christmas Day showdown this year.

Tack on the rematch on Martin Luther King Day and Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals and Durant has a 6-18 record against James. Unlike the vast majority of their meetings, James is fighting an uphill battle since he’s dealing with a team full of players he says can lead a team by themselves.

Nonetheless, if LeBron can cause Durant to have a bad game, could it get into his head? Would Durant begin to do too much with the pressure of finally winning a Finals series? Would Durant and Stephen Curry start playing hero ball?

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Google Defines

"pris·on·er’s di·lem·manoun(in game theory) a situation in which two players each have two options whose outcome depends crucially on the simultaneous choice made by the other, often formulated in terms of two prisoners separately deciding whether to confess to a crime."

In this case, the crime is winning a championship via “coattail-riding.”

The NBA Finals MVP award would be like the immunity idol on a season of CBS’ “Survivor”, keeping contestants ineligible to be “voted off the island” if they possess it. In this analogy, winning the NBA Finals MVP award protects whoever wins it from being considered a coattail-rider

If he’s named the MVP of the NBA Finals, Durant’s reputation would have more protection against those who criticized his decision to join the Warriors because he’ll be seen as the player who led the team to the championship.

The same applies to Curry, who has not played great in either of his NBA Finals appearances. If Curry gets it, he’s still revered as the face of the Warriors franchise.

Adversity of the one-percent:

One can easily steal the Finals MVP from the other. If they both care too much, or not enough, it could spell disaster. It’s a delicate situation.

We have seen the Warriors display frayed nerves at various points of the season. Matt Moore of CBS Sports addressed that following the Warriors blown lead and O.T. loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in January.

Durant and Curry being named as co-MVP is an improbable outcome. Due to the odd number of votes, It’s only mathematically possible if a third player comes into the picture. If the series were to go longer, it is also foreseeable for James to get Finals MVP votes in a losing effort.

In any case, the only one who can really beat the Warriors is the Warriors. The team has yet to face any significant adversity this playoffs at 13-0.

How easily could things fall apart if the Warriors lose one game?

But will they even lose one game?

Related Story: Cleveland Cavaliers have winning formula for Game 2

How do you think the series will turn out? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section or Twitter @KJG_NBA.

*All stats courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com