Defending champion Golden State and the Cleveland Cavaliers take their epic rivalry to historic levels with a fourth consecutive NBA Finals showdown — a challenge that both say never gets old.
It's the first time in major American sports history that the same clubs have played for a crown four years in a row.
The Warriors seek their third title in four years to cement their dynasty as the best-of-seven championship series starts on Thursday.
The Cavaliers, boasting superstar LeBron James in his eighth consecutive finals, try to level their rivalry with Golden State at 2-2.
James has no patience for those that say the matchup has grown stale.
"Teams have had their opportunities to beat the Cavs over the last four years, and teams have had the opportunities to beat the Warriors over the last four years," James said. "If you want to see somebody else then you got to beat them."
It nearly happened as for the first time in 39 years both the Eastern and Western Conference finals went to seven games before the Cavs downed Boston and the Warriors ousted Houston.
Television ratings were up 40 percent from last year, when the Warriors went on a 16-1 playoff run to the crown.
The conference finals game sevens produced the second-most NBA game viewers in US cable television and ESPN history.
If those viewers were hoping to see a new set of finalists emerge, that's just too bad, said Warriors guard Klay Thompson.
"I think the rest of the NBA has got to get better," Thompson said. "We're happy to be a part of history. It's pretty cool."
'Good, healthy rivalry'
Just as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics dominated the 1980s, the Warriors and Cavs have built a strong rivalry in which each has lifted a trophy.
"We respect each other as professionals but there's obviously some dislike because we've been facing it for four years and they beat us, we beat them," Thompson said. "So there's some natural competitiveness that brews between the fan bases and teams that makes for fun, energetic nights in this arena. So it's a good healthy rivalry."
Warriors star forward Kevin Durant, who won his first title last year after the Cavs dethroned Golden State in 2016, says fans should enjoy the rivalry while they can.
"It may not be as suspenseful as a lot of people want it to be or as drama filled, but that's what you've got movies and music for," Durant said.
"If you enjoy basketball, I don't feel like you should have any complaints because it's a great set of players on both teams."
Some would argue that, saying the Cavaliers rely too much on James.
Late night comedy show "Saturday Night Live" shared an internet video called "The Other Cavaliers" with a Roomba robotic cleaning device at point guard, a dog at center and teammates giving James back rubs, high fives and providing anything else he needs "as long as what he needs isn't basketball."
"I run the pick and roll," actor Mikey Day says in the video. "That's when I pick up LeBron's laundry and roll it over to his house."
Punch to the punchlines
The real Cavaliers reserves hope to add some punch to the punchlines.
"He's definitely a big part of our team. But if you watch the games, we have guys that have big moments," said Cavs forward Tristan Thompson. "LeBron definitely has done a great job for us, but he's not alone. He has help."
But James is a force to be reckoned with, Cavaliers guard Kyle Korver said.
"I think the other team always knows that... if you're going to win the game you have to go through him," Korver said.
That means the latest installment of the Cavs-Warriors rivalry will add to someone's legendary legacy.
"Golden State is one of the best teams I've ever played. It's one of the best teams that's ever been assembled," James said. "I don't know where they will fall in my book, but they will have a nice chapter."
Updated Date: May 31, 2018 19:59:42 IST