LeBron James reshaped the NBA landscape upon returning home to Cleveland in the summer of 2014. The Eastern Conference’s most dominant asset took his talents 1,200 miles north after two championships and four Finals appearances in Miami, bringing the league a new favorite to win the title.
But it wasn’t the Cavs who emerged as the NBA’s preeminent franchise over the past three seasons. That title is held out West by Steph Curry and Co. in Golden State. The current iteration of the Warriors tallied the most wins of any team in NBA history over a three-year span, and will meet Cleveland for a third consecutive Finals beginning on June 1. So with the Finals trilogy now upon us, here is a complete timeline of the league’s best rivalry since James announced his return nearly three years ago.
July 11, 2014: Return of the King
James eschewed another championship run with the Heat in favor of heading back to where his professional career started. In a Sports Illustrated piece with Lee Jenkins, James detailed the thought process behind his decision and his goals for the future.
“I feel my calling here goes above basketball,” James wrote. “I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up.”
Aug 23, 2014: Love becomes a Cavalier
Cleveland formed its version of the Big 3 when the Cavs added Kevin Love two months before the start of the regular season. Love was dealt by Minnesota in exchange for two No. 1 overall picks, 2014–15 Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and current Nets forward Anthony Bennett.
Feb. 26, 2015: Cavs take down Dubs
The LeBron-less Cavs dropped the two teams’ first matchup in early January, a 112–94 blowout at Oracle. Cleveland returned the favor nearly two months later, though, defeating Golden State 110–99. James was in peak form, erupting for 42 points and 11 boards in the win.
April 26, 2015: Love knocked out of playoffs
The Cavs weren’t in a celebratory mood following their first round sweep of the Celtics after losing Kevin Love to a dislocated shoulder. Love was injured by Boston forward Kelly Olynyk in the first quarter, and shared his thoughts on the play postgame.
“I thought it was a bush league play,” Love said. “I have no doubt in my mind that he did it on purpose.”
May 4, 2015: Curry awarded MVP
The league’s most lethal shooter claimed his first MVP, edging out Houston’s James Harden. Curry ranked just eighth in the NBA in points per game during the season, but set an all-time record for threes made. He also led Golden State in scoring, assists and steals.
June 4, 2015: Irving exits Game 1
Golden State toppled Cleveland in the Finals’ first game, winning 108–100 in overtime. The extra period doled out a pair of losses for the Cavs, as Kyrie Irving suffered a fractured kneecap. The Big 3 that looked so promising to begin the year was whittled down to an army of one, with few able-bodied contributors around James.
June 9, 2015: Cavs gain series lead
Despite the absence of Irving and Love, James willed Cleveland to a 2–1 series lead, punctuated by a 96–91 victory at the Quicken Loans Arena. James posted a mammoth statline in the win, going for 40 points along with 12 rebounds and eight assists. As for the Warriors, they found themselves down 2–1 for the second series of the postseason after falling in a hole against Memphis in the Western Conference semifinals.
June 16, 2015: Warriors take the title
Golden State quickly rebounded from the series deficit, taking a 3–2 lead heading back to Cleveland for Game 6. Curry and Andre Iguodala came through in the clutch on the road, each compiling 25 points in a 105–97 victory. The win brought the Warriors their fourth title in franchise history, and the first since 1975.
June 19, 2015: Draymond enjoys the parade
The Dubs headed west for their championship parade three days after clinching the Finals, met by hundreds of thousands of fans in downtown Oakland upon their arrival. Warriors forward and team firebrand Draymond Green especially enjoyed the festivities, taking the mic with some pointed—if slightly inebriated—words.
“Klay Thompson, yup," Green said. "Splash Brothers, yup. Cavaliers, nope. We won, yeah. They suck, yeah. We here, yup. They not, nope."
November 24, 2015: Golden State sets streak record
There would be no championship fatigue for the Warriors to start the 2015–16 season, setting an NBA record after notching 16 straight victories to start the year. They would go on to win another eight games in a row before falling to 24–1 in a road loss to Milwaukee.
Jan 17, 2016: Curry adds fuel to the fire
Golden State continued its post-championship taunts in early January prior to the Warriors’ trip to Cleveland. This time it wasn’t Green, but Curry who stirred the pot.
“Obviously, walking in the locker room, it’ll be good memories,” Curry said. “Hopefully, it still smells a little bit like champagne.” The Warriors would keep the upper hand on the court a day later, blowing out Cleveland 132–98.
Jan 22, 2016: Blatt era ends
As the Warriors cruised through the regular season, a bout of midseason turmoil struck the Cavs. Despite a 30–11 record—then tops in the Eastern conference—Cleveland fired head coach David Blatt, giving the reins to assistant Tyronn Lue. James and Blatt never seemed to be on the same page in their year-and-a-half union, and when push came to shove, the franchise savior won out over a coach who has spent a majority of his career overseas.
April 13, 2016: Warriors win No. 73
The regular-season wins record held by Michael Jordan and the 1995–96 Bulls came crashing down as Golden State dispatched Memphis in the final game of the regular season. Curry was transcendent in the record-setting victory, splashing 10 threes en route to 46 points.
May 10, 2016: Curry notches second MVP
Curry’s prowess from behind the arc led to his second-straight MVP, earning the award this time in unanimous fashion. The Davidson product shattered his own record for threes made in a season, this time canning 402 treys while averaging over 30 points per game.
June 10, 2016: Dubs secure 3–1 lead, lose Green
The Finals looked to be headed for a quick ending after Curry’s 38 points in Game 4 gave Golden State a 3–1 series lead. But it wasn’t all roses for the Warriors, who lost Green to a one-game suspension after becoming entangled with James and swiping at his groin late in the fourth quarter.
June 10, 2016: Thompson calls out the King
The fireworks extended past the court and onto the podium following Green and James’ altercation. Klay Thompson joined the fray postgame, telling the media, “People’s feelings get hurt if they’re called a bad word. I guess [James’] feelings just got hurt.”
Thompson’s words were relayed to LeBron two days later prior to Game 5. James mainly laughed off the comments, saying he’ll “take the high road again.”
June 19, 2016: Cleveland completes comeback
After exploding for over 40 points in both Game 5 and Game 6, James led Cleveland to Oracle Arena for an epic Game 7 matchup. In one of the most drama-filled battles in league history, the Cavs emerged victorious, taking the title with a 93–89 win. James earned Finals MVP honors for a third time, bringing Cleveland its first professional sports championship since 1948.
July 4, 2016: Warriors sign Durant
Why regroup when you can reload? Golden State employed this strategy the summer after falling in the Finals, signing former rival Kevin Durant away from the Thunder.The move sent shockwaves throughout the NBA and threatened the competitive balance in the Western Conference. Not only did the Warriors bring back much of the same core from their 73-win campaign a year prior, they also added a former MVP still in his prime.
October 30, 2016: LeBron throws Halloween party
Cleveland kept the party going a week after receiving their championship rings, throwing some serious shade at the Warriors at LeBron’s Halloween party. The shindig featured a skeleton playing some Finals-inspired drums, and a tasty tribute to Curry and Thompson. Looks like Cleveland wasn’t exactly spooked by the Warriors.
December 25, 2016: Irving clutch on Christmas
This Christmas-day matchup more than lived up to expectations. Irving came through in the clutch once again, sinking a turnaround jumper with three seconds remaining to give the Cavs a 109–108 win. Durant scored 36 points in the loss, but faltered in the final seconds, failing to get a quality shot before time expired.
April 23, 2017: Kerr out indefinitely
The steady hand behind Golden State’s success missed Game 3 against Portland with an illness, and it was reported a day later that Kerr would be away from the sidelines indefinitely. Symptoms due to his surgically repaired back nagged Kerr during the 2015–16 season as well, causing him to miss the season’s first 43 games.
May 22, 2017: Warriors punch Finals ticket
The Warriors cruised past San Antonio in four games to reach their third consecutive Finals, storming through the Western Conference with a 12–0 record in the playoffs. Next up is a third-straight Finals matchup with LeBron and Cavs, who waltzed past Boston to win the East.