CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers may be the reigning NBA champions, but when they tip off Game 1 of The Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California tonight, they will do so as an underdog against the vaunted Golden State Warriors.
And the Cavaliers will use the fact that most of the sports world is counting them out as fuel in trying to become the first repeat champion since the Miami Heat in the 2012 and 2013 playoffs.
“I think we will use it as fuel,” power forward Kevin Love said. “We will use it as motivation, but as far as the idea of playing into it, it’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. I think we match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same thing about us.”
Even if they wanted to, Love says the Cavaliers cannot escape the fact that the Warriors are favored in the NBA Finals, and instead, will try and prove wrong commentators from around the world.
“We’re always on our phones,” Love said. “It’s hard not to see it, or you have friends or family members that don’t know what to text you at certain times. You’re looking at your phone no matter what, so you see it, you hear it, but the underdog thing, we don’t really pay attention to that.
“You use different things as fuel and motivation, but in some ways, it almost has to be the right thing because so much is fluff and stupid, for lack of a better word, but I think both teams have a lot to prove, and it’s going to be a really hard-fought matchup.”
By winning the Eastern Conference Championship with a 135-102 Game 5 victory over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden last Thursday night, the Cavaliers earned the right to face the three-time defending Western Conference Champion Warriors for the NBA title for the third straight season.
The rubber match between the Cavaliers and Warriors marks the first time in NBA history that the same two teams will play each other in The Finals in three consecutive seasons. The Warriors claimed the title over an injury-ravaged Cavaliers team in 2015, and in 2016, Cleveland made history when it overcame a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series to claim its first-ever league championship.
“Want the Warriors? Like ‘Bron said in his postgame presser, they’ve been right at the top, best team in the league three years straight now,” Love said. “They’ve been super impressive, so it was kind of in our minds that’s who we’re going to see.
“They played great basketball this year. Obviously, adding an MVP (Kevin Durant) to a team that already has a two-time MVP (Stephen Curry), that makes them even more impressive. It’s tough to say we didn’t expect it, but we knew that they’d be right there.
“We’re not the only ones. I think everybody has either wanted it or thought that it was going to come to this point. We felt that if we played great basketball through this time, which we knew we were capable of, that was very probable and highly likely. Two great teams playing great basketball right now. There’s not much more you can ask for.”