What a difference a year makes for Cavs and Warriors

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Friday, June 17, 2016

CLEVELAND -- The visitors locker room at Quicken Loans Arena stayed dry on Thursday, the carpet free from any champagne stains.

Exactly one year after the Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on their home court to win the championship and end a four-decade title drought for their franchise, the Cavs absolutely drilled the Dubs 115-101 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to force a Game 7 on Sunday night.

The postgame meal for the Warriors at Morton's, the same restaurant that housed their championship celebration a year ago, was presumably a somber one.

And then here are the Cavs, one win away from pulling off the ultimate payback by beating the Warriors in three straight games to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy on Golden State's floor just as the Warriors did in the 2015 Finals to take the title in Cleveland.

Any time there's a rematch in the Finals there are going to be parallels to be found, but the role reversal seemingly at play here is remarkable.

While Golden State went through last year's playoffs so healthy compared to its competition that Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers suggested that "luck" played a factor in the Warriors' ride to the championship -- especially considering the Cavs team they faced was missing Kevin LoveandKyrie Irving and had Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert on their last legs -- it's now the Cavs who look injury-free compared to the dilapidated Dubs.

Golden State already had lost Andrew Bogut to a knee injury for the rest of the series in Game 5. It had Andre Iguodala needing to go to the locker room to treat his back pain in the middle of Game 6. And it has had Stephen Curry, who missed eight games in the postseason after injuring his knee against Houston in the first round, not quite looking like his back-to-back MVP self.

On the flip side, the Cavs look as strong, cohesive and dangerous as they ever have since LeBron James made the trek back to Northeast Ohio in the summer of 2014.

And of course, a big reason for that is James himself. He has turned in two masterpieces in must-win situations in Games 5 and 6: 41 points on 16-of-30 shooting, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks and 3 steals in Game 5 and 41 points on 16-of-27 shooting, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 blocks and 4 steals in Game 6.

It's like he has reached the same level of individual domination that he did last June against the Warriors, only he has added efficiency -- shooting better than 50 percent from the field in each of the past four games when he failed to do so in any of the six Finals games a year ago despite his dominance.

While last year's Warriors were pegged as the underdogs to some extent, trying to take down the establishment in James, a record-setting 73-9 regular season later and now it's the Cavs playing the underdog role, trying to rally back from a 3-1 series deficit against almighty Golden State to do something that has never been done by the 32 other teams in the Finals that found themselves in the same hole and saw their title dreams die.

Cleveland can't fully turn the tables on Golden State without a win in Game 7 on Sunday, one that would similarly end a multidecade title drought not just for the Cavaliers franchise but for the city. It would validate James' decision to leave Miami, much the same the way the Warriors' championship a year ago gave credence to the small-ball, positionless approach they adopted.

Yes, what a difference a year makes, from the Warriors sprouting from surprising champs to a historic juggernaut and now teetering on the edge of devastation to the Cavs going from a drama-filled group to a next-man-up brigade to now -- fully healthy, fully confident, fully together -- on the verge of an unprecedented achievement.

All that's left now is to see which locker room at Oracle Arena -- the home digs of the Warriors or the visitors space of the Cavs -- gets soaked in champagne once the final buzzer sounds Sunday night.

Related Video