SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — It’s LeBron vs. Steph on the big stage, Take V.
With a slightly different look in the playoffs these days for two of the game’s greatest players.
“Just two of the most competitive players that have ever played this game,” James said Monday. “We want to etch our name in the history books as much as we can, and we’re playing our own way. I’ve got nothing but the greatest admiration and respect for Steph.”
Curry and Draymond Green reflect back on Golden State’s many memorable NBA Finals battles with James and marvel how they’re all still playing such high-level basketball so many years later.
Yet this Western Conference semifinal matchup starting Tuesday is new for everybody: Curry, Green, Klay Thompson and these Warriors have never faced LeBron’s Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs — even if they’re plenty familiar with James himself.
“It is special to know the first series we played him in Cleveland in the ’14-15 to now, we’re blessed to be playing at this level,” Curry said. “Excited about a new chapter, two teams trying to keep their season alive and chase a championship. That’s what it’s all about.
The Warriors and James’ Cavaliers faced off in four straight NBA Finals from 2015-18.
Game 1 in this best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series is on the Warriors’ home floor — Golden State is the sixth seed and the Lakers No. 7. It’s the first time a No. 6 seed has home court in the second round since the sixth-seeded Houston Rockets against the No. 7 Seattle SuperSonics in 1987.
“It’s weird, a six-seven seed series, we get home-court advantage, so we’ve got to take advantage of that,” Curry said.
Curry is 15-7 against James in the playoffs, with Curry averaging 25.4 points to James 33.
They’re still dazzling.
In February, the 38-year-old James passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. And now at 35, reigning NBA Finals MVP Curry is coming off a 50-point masterpiece in a 120-100 Game 7 win at Sacramento on Sunday that completed a comeback from falling behind 2-0 — the most ever points in a Game 7 and his best scoring performance of any postseason game.
“No. 1 you’re talking about some of the ultimate competitors, LeBron is one of the ultimate competitors, Steph, Klay, myself, (Kevon Looney), ultimate competitors,” Green said. “To have these opportunities we don’t take for granted. Who you are as a professional will show during these times. Here we are eight years later from the first time we met in a playoff series and still playing at that level. That’s special. It says a lot about who you are as a pro.”
Thompson has been dreaming about a chance to face the team he grew up watching. His dad Mychal played for Los Angeles in his final five NBA seasons from 1986-91.
The Warriors haven’t faced the Lakers in the playoffs since the elder Thompson was there in ’91, when the “Run TMC” team led by Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin lost in the Western Conference semifinals to Magic Johnson and James Worthy.
This season, the Lakers won the last three meetings since remaking their roster at the trade deadline. Los Angeles wrapped up its first-round series against the Grizzlies in Game 6 on Friday, so the Lakers will be well-rested.
“It’s special, we’ve played LeBron in the finals four times, one of the greatest to ever play,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but we’re all excited to play the Lakers. It’s a legendary franchise. Warriors-Lakers, it’s been a long time since they’ve seen each other in the playoffs. I know I’m personally excited to play in front of my father and my mother and some of my best friends and go down to SoCal after our homestand. It’s just a dream come true. I’ve waited for this for 12 years.”
LOONEY ON THE BOARDS
Kevon Looney’s chances on the boards could be tougher while dealing with Anthony Davis.
Looney wound up with 106 rebounds in the first-round series — 37 on the offensive end. He had five straight playoff games with double-digit rebounds.
In the final five games of the series, Looney had 90 rebounds — 34 offensive — with 27 assists.
“It all started with Kevon,” Green said.
Just how different are the Lakers from the team that started the regular season 2-10 after losing at Golden State on opening night? Only three players who scored in that game are likely to play significant minutes in this series.
The Lakers have been rolling ever since the trade deadline, and they’ve won 14 of their last 18 games heading to San Francisco. Los Angeles added former Warriors guard D’Angelo Russell and defensive stopper Jarred Vanderbilt to their starting lineup alongside two-way contributor Austin Reaves, dramatically improving James’ supporting cast. The Warriors already know it: Los Angeles beat Golden State three times in 23 days late in the regular season.
“One of the first things I learned about LeBron the first time we played him in the Finals was just how smart he was, like coming out of timeouts he knew what we were doing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “So you take that into account.”
Davis put on a defensive masterclass in the Lakers’ first-round victory over Memphis, blocking 26 shots in the six-game series and making the Grizzlies profoundly wary of venturing into the paint. Davis probably won’t have the same impact on the jump-shooting Warriors, who averaged the NBA’s third-fewest points in the paint this season.
Los Angeles has been a determined, resilient defensive team under rookie coach Darvin Ham, and its defensive success is likely to depend on Dennis Schröder, Russell, Vanderbilt and Reaves somehow slowing Curry and Thompson on the perimeter.
“It’s completely the opposite (from Memphis),” Reaves said. “They shoot 3s everywhere, honestly. So it’s a mindset shift, but we’ll lock in and figure it out.”
Thompson will be eager to get going fast after struggling in the last two games against the Kings, calling his 4-for-19 outing in Game 7 “disgusting.” He went 8 for 20 in a Game 6 loss including 2 of 9 from long range. That was after Thompson had scored 26 in Game 4 and 25 in Game 5.
When he gets hot, he can score in flurries.
He liked the looks he got, and Kerr praised Thompson’s stingy defense despite the tough day on the other end.
“They’ll go in hopefully Game 1 of the semis,” Thompson said.