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Warriors vs. Cavaliers is a rivalry for the record books

Editor's Note: Some images courtesy USA TODAY Sports.

The Golden State Warriors, defending NBA champions, square off Thursday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers for a record fourth straight year. Amna Nawaz talks with Kevin Blackistone of ESPN for an appreciation of the repeat -- yet unique -- matchup.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Professional basketball's NBA Finals get under way tonight with a familiar and historic rivalry.

    The defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, square off against the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fourth straight year. That's a record. Never before in major American sports have two teams faced each other in the championship that many years in a row.

    While the matchup may be a repeat, Amna Nawaz tells us why this competition is still a contest with compelling storylines.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, there's a reason these two teams keep battling every June. The Warriors have a dynamic offense and four All-Stars, most of whom are seen as future Hall of Famers. Cleveland, meanwhile, has LeBron James, who is arguably the best basketball player in the world.

    And this is the eighth straight trip to the Finals for the 33-year-old superstar.

    So, before the games get under way, let's hear some appreciation about this unique moment in time.

    Kevin Blackistone is a sports columnist with The Washington Post and frequent panelist with ESPN.

    Kevin, thanks for making the time. Let's talk about this now.

    Obviously, there are the individual stars. I want to talk about them in a second. But just talk to me about this matchup for a second. This rivalry, is this going to go down as one of the all-time greats?

  • Kevin Blackistone:

    You know, I think it will. Four years in a row, that rarely happens anymore.

    And the fact that it's such a constellation of stars, with LeBron James and Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant, and all the league MVPs and NBA Final MVPs that they have among them, the scoring championships, all of that, that's what makes this really great. And it's going to down in history as one of the great all-time rivalries in the Finals.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, tell me a little bit about how we got here now.

    In many ways, LeBron, the Cavaliers, they shouldn't be here in the first place.

  • Kevin Blackistone:

    No.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Both teams went through a pretty rough season to get here. You talk to me a little bit about how the Cavs managed to get here.

  • Kevin Blackistone:

    Sure.

    Well, the Cavs got here by the fact that they were riding LeBron James' Superman cape. I mean, that's all you can say. He has been spectacular this postseason. This is a team which, mind you, this year went through all sorts of changes.

    And last year in the off-season, they lost the second best player on their team, a superstar in his own right, Kyrie Irving, who no longer wanted to play next to LeBron James. He got traded to Boston. Boston traded a little point guard named Isaiah Thomas to Cleveland. He was hurt. He only played a couple of months. He wasn't very good.

    Finally, Cleveland got rid of him for spare parts from the Lakers. Kevin Love, who is the other really good player supposedly on the Cavaliers team, has been up and down all year, and was hurt the last few games with a concussion.

    So it really all rested with LeBron James' shoulders in the playoffs, and all he did was lead his team to a sweep of the Toronto Raptors, who were the best team in the East this year, and then he beat Boston in Boston in game seven with a spectacular individual performance, in which he played every minute of the game, which kind of encapsulated his season, in which he played every game this season, didn't miss one to injure, illness, anything, didn't even get a rest.

    And yet he has carried this team to the NBA Finals yet again. It's remarkable.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Kevin, we're on the front end of those Finals, though. LeBron may be a superhero, but can he continue to do that? You're talking about a 33-year-old guy, his 15th year in the league.

    And tonight, when he suits up, it's going to be the 101st time this season he does that. Can he continue to do that through the Finals?

  • Kevin Blackistone:

    I have learned never to doubt LeBron James.

    Now, two years ago, when it was the second time these two teams met in the finals, the Warriors jumped to a three-games-to-one lead in this best-of-seven series, and guess what happened? Somehow, some way, LeBron James willed his team, dragged his team to game seven and won that game seven for a championship for Cleveland.

    So, anything is possible. It's certainly not going to be a runaway, I don't think, like it was last year, when Golden State just plowed through the playoffs out West and then beat the Cavaliers four games to one.

    They have struggled this year because of injuries. They struggled against the Houston Rockets to get to the finals. They were benefited by an injury to Chris Paul, and — with Houston. And they were able to soldier through.

    But, once again, I can never, ever pick against LeBron James. And they just got word this afternoon that Kevin Love, who suffered a concussion and couldn't play the last couple of games, will be available tonight. He's passed the NBA Concussion protocol.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Anything can happen. It's the game to watch tonight.

  • Kevin Blackistone:

    Absolutely.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Kevin Blackistone, thanks for your time.

  • Kevin Blackistone:

    Thank you.

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