It took three of the greatest individual performances you'll ever see from James and a massive shot from Kyrie Irving to win the final three games of last year's title clash, but that ball started rolling in Game 5.
A Game 5 that the Warriors played without Draymond Green.
A year later and a Kevin Durant better, the Warriors are out to avenge last year's loss. They're the heavy favorites in the series, with Las Vegas thinking that they'll take care of business in five games.
That's not to say that Cleveland doesn't have a chance — quite the opposite, in fact. But if the Cavs are to repeat as champions, they'll have to repeat at least part of last year's formula from Games 5, 6, and 7.
And the most critical challenge of them all revolves around No. 23 in blue and gold. (No, the other blue and gold — the lighter shades.)
If the Cavs are going to win back-to-back titles, they have to take Draymond Green out of games.
Bob DonnanBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The Warriors are loaded with star power — everyone knows that. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant make up what has to be the greatest shooting duo of all time, beating out Curry and Klay Thompson, who is due for a breakout after a slow Western Conference finals performance.
But Green, the second-round tweener, is the linchpin of everything the Warriors do.
Take out the linchpin and the Warriors might not look so impressive.
Kelley L CoxKelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
It's a league of point guards, but don't look at Stephen Curry to be the main facilitator of the ball in the Warriors half-court offense this June — that role has been held by Green since the middle of the 2015-16 season.
The Warriors run plenty of split action, with Green as the main decision maker in the high post. Green averaged seven assists per game in the regular season — he is only the second true forward to average that many, alongside Larry Bird (Green has done it twice, Bird three times) — and 7.3 per game this postseason.
Without Green on the court since the middle of March (the start of the Warriors' current 27-1 stretch) the Warriors' offense posted a defensive rating seven points lower than when he is on the court.
And Green is a massive asset in the fast-break as well — literally. Few players in the league create more force coming down the court than the smooth-dribbling Green. His one-man, coast-to-coast fast breaks are in a class along with LeBron and Giannis Antetokounmpo. (And he's even more dangerous when he passes after getting to the paint.)
In all, when Green has eight or more assists in a game — one above his season and postseason average — the Warriors are next to unbeatable this season at 32-2.
That's a clear number for the Cavs' to keep in mind.
Jaime ValdezJaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Green is also the Warriors' best defensive player and a favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year. While the Warriors are a great defensive team, Green is a virtuoso on that end of the court — his four-game series against the Blazers in the first round of this postseason might be the best four-game defensive stretch in recent NBA history.
Green's ability to diagnose an opponent's plays and get himself into the perfect position to disrupt is something close to supernatural.
Green can guard all five positions well — something he showed off here — and that, along with his elite help-side defense, allows the Warriors to switch on nearly every screen.
Make no mistake — Green is not floating on defense, playing free safety, he's defending multiple players at one time. There are few players in the NBA who can do it and even fewer who actually show it on the court.
Green had — by a massive margin — the best defensive rating in the NBA this season at 94.3. And while that's aided by teammates, the fact that he was three points better than his nearest competition in a stat that's usually parsed by tenths of points, speaks to his impact on that end of the court.
Also speaking to it: When Green's been on the court the past two-and-a-half months, the Warriors have a net rating of 14. When he's off the court, that rating is two.
The Cavs, obviously, would prefer the latter.
Jaime ValdezJaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Green is also Golden State's top rim protector, and against a team like Cleveland, who has two of the best at-the-rim finishers in the league, that is a huge role.
Despite being 6-foot-6 (this is his actual height — I have stood next to this man dozens of times — and I will hear no contrarian opinion) Green was the NBA's best at defending within six feet of the hoop this season, holding shooters (or, more accurately, drivers) to less than 50 percent shooting on shots (floaters, layups, and dunks) that go in more than 60 percent of the time. He's maintained that clip in the postseason, too, and is blocking two shots per game.
With some rim-protecting help on the team this season (last year it was just Andrew Bogut, who missed the end of the Finals) in Kevin Durant (underrated rim protector) and JaVale McGee (an overrated rim protector), Green is taking more risks. Cleveland should encourage that, and attack it.
Kyle TeradaKyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Green is a gifted passer with incredible court vision, but he's forcing teams to choose their poison this postseason: 50 percent of Green's shots have come from 3-point distance in these playoffs and he's making 47 percent of those attempts.
Is he due for a regression? Oh yeah. Big time.
But do the Cavs want to bet that it'll come in these NBA Finals? Sometimes a good run can last weeks.
If the Cavs can do anything about it, they need to make sure that Green either doesn't get off 3s or misses them, because when he makes multiple shots from distance, the Warriors can look unstoppable.
This season, including the playoffs, Green has made three 3-pointers or more in a game 14 times. The Warriors lost one of those games.
So how does Cleveland stop him? They make a conscientious effort to attack him from the start of the game. Green is a smart player, but he's not risk-averse — he'll accept any challenge the Cavs throw his way. After all, he wants to "annihilate" them.
Even if it doesn't create an ideal flow or ball movement, the Cavs should make their top priority on offense getting Green into foul trouble. (Remember when teams used to do this?) A steady diet of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving isolations — attacking Green directly or forcing him to provide help-side defense — should do the trick.
The Cavs can, of course, beat the Warriors with Green on the court — just look at Game 7 of last year's Finals, when Green was arguably the best player in the contest — but it is markedly harder.
The Warriors are vulnerable with Green off the court and next to unbeatable with him on it. It might not be pretty, but Cleveland knows what it has to do.