DAR Sports: Golden State Warriors vs Cleveland Cavaliers- The Rivalry

By @TrueGodImmortal 

The NBA Finals aren't technically set, yet. However, this season, it all feels like a formality. With the Golden State Warriors up 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals, and the Cleveland Cavaliers on a roll at 2-1 in the Conference Finals as well against a weakened Boston Celtics, it seems the inevitable clash awaits us. The Golden State Warriors vs The Cleveland Cavaliers for the 3rd straight year in the NBA Finals. The two most popular teams in the league with the three most popular basketball players in the world doing battle for the right to hold that trophy and wear those championship rings. It's a compelling narrative and surely one that equals bigger money for the NBA. Despite LeBron James claiming that there is no rivalry amongst the two teams, there definitely is one and it's been building for years. One could say it's been festering under the surface for a while with Stephen Curry overtaking LeBron James as the no. 1 selling jersey in the NBA and with Kevin Durant sitting comfortably in the no. 2 spot in terms of the best player in the NBA, he's had a long standing rivalry with LeBron James, the no. 1 player in the game. It's all been building up and it seems as if the chapters to this rivalry get more and more intense.

With the third straight likely matchup between the two, and the rubber match seemingly ready to be set for the Finals and possibly another Finals or two ahead, it's obvious that the two teams are the best of the best in the NBA. The Cavs still have the best player in the NBA and a star point guard with a 20 point and 10 rebound All Star Power Forward, and the Warriors have two of the best 3/4 players in the NBA, the clear Defensive Player of The Year, and a lethal three point heavy shooting guard. The stage is set. The rivalry is reaching the highest point. Another LeBron vs Durant Finals battle. Another Steph vs Kyrie Finals battle. Another Draymond vs LeBron situation. Another Steph vs LeBron battle. This is what the NBA has wanted, and honestly what they need. However, before we get to this year's Finals, let's take a look at the history of this rivalry since it really began in the 2014-2015 season. Let's get into this look at the Warriors vs Cavs rivalry.

Here's the misconception about these two teams: only one of them was expected to be in the NBA Finals. Once the Miami Heat lost LeBron James, it seemed as if their reign had officially ended and when Bron decided to move back to Cleveland and bring Kevin Love with him, many of us suspected that the Cavaliers would reach the Finals. I mean, who would be able to stop them in the East? The Chicago Bulls with a Derrick Rose that was not able to stay 100% healthy? The Atlanta Hawks? The LeBron less Miami Heat? The Toronto Raptors maybe? The Charlotte Hornets? The growing Boston Celtics? None of these teams really posed a serious threat to the stacked Cavs team, and after they added more pieces, they seemed poised to have a big run in the playoffs with LeBron making another Finals appearance. The Cavs were set for the season and an expected Finals team in the East. The Warriors? Not so much.

The Golden State Warriors were never expected to be the no. 1 seed in the West and definitely not a championship caliber team in the eyes of many. After a tough loss the previous season in the first round to the Clippers, there was the belief that the West was to be won by one of three teams: the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder, the unstoppable San Antonio Spurs who had a growing star in Kawhi Leonard and were the defending champions, and the underachieving Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors had taken three draft picks that no one expected to be as great as they are in Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and of course Steph Curry, and built around them. Their bench became better, their motto became Strength In Numbers, and the Warriors began to take off as a team. With their new coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors were set for the season and ready to shock the world. Little did we know, the Cavaliers and the Warriors were about to be on a collision course for the next few seasons.

Their first matchup in the regular season was on January 9, 2015, and the Cavs would come to visit Oracle Arena. The Warriors were in the process of an amazing season, and they came into the game 29-5, while the Cavs were still struggling to find their rhythm under new head coach David Blatt. In this game, the Warriors would pull away with the victory 112-94, behind Steph Curry having a solid 23 point and 10 rebound game, and a near triple double from Draymond Green. That game wasn't seen as a big deal, and neither was the second matchup between the two on February 26, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs would handily defeat the Warriors 110-99, on the strength of a 42 point perfomance from LeBron James and a 24 point night from Kyrie Irving (despite a bad shooting night). Also, for the Warriors, a rare bad shooting night for both Steph and Klay did them in, but in the two regular season games in this season, it seemed that both teams were evenly matched when healthy.

When the playoffs came around, the Warriors went through the Pelicans in a 4 game sweep for the first round, struggled with the tough defensive Memphis Grizzlies but won in 6 games (after being down 2-1), and then easily defeated the Houston Rockets in 5 games. The Warriors were doubted the entire way for the most part and many, including myself, thought that the Grizzlies might upset the no. 1 seed (who went 67-15 in the season). The Cavs had a slightly easier journey, as they disposed of the Boston Celtics in a 4 game sweep, struggled with the Chicago Bulls but won in 6 games (after being down 2-1), and completely obliterated and swept the no. 1 seed Atlanta Hawks (the Cavs were the no. 2 seed and went 53-29).

As the inevitable clash approached, the Warriors were seen as the favorites by some slightly due to the loss of Kevin Love in the first round of the playoffs to injury. As Game 1 approached, it seemed yet again that the two teams were about as evenly matched as one could be. It came down to OT, and that's when the series changed. Kyrie went down with an injury and the Warriors took game 1. With LeBron utilizing JR Smith, Shump, and others, the Warriors were now the heavy favorites, but something happened that still shocks me: Cleveland took games 2 and 3. Bron was playing at his highest level and despite his subpar efficiency from the field, he was doing what he had to do. The Warriors would turn it out and win three straight games to take the title and win the first NBA Championship for the team in nearly 40 years. While it was a great feat, many wonder what would happen if Love and Kyrie were both healthy, and if you ask me, I think we'd see a different result. However, history remembers champions, not the narrative and the Warriors still pulled away with the victory and defeated the Cavs. As the next season approached, many wondered if the two teams would meet up yet again.

The belief was always that the Cavs would have won the title if they were fully healthy and that's 100% correct. The Cavs were the best team in the NBA playoffs in the 2015 postseason, up until Kyrie Irving went down in game 1 of the Finals. This is what fuels my belief that a healthy Cavs team wins the title in 6 or 7 games against an equally matched Warriors. The Warriors hadn't developed the toughness to win games and take over as much as they would learn later.

During this season, we would see them have two more big matchups in the regular season, starting with a Christmas game at Oracle Arena. The Warriors came in with Luke Walton as head coach, as he was interim coach while Steve Kerr recovered from a serious injury. The Warriors were 28-1 heading into this game, and the Cavs were 19-8. It was a tough battle back and forth, and a mostly bad shooting night all around, but the real star (and he seems to be the X-Factor half of the time against Cleveland) is Draymond Green, who would lead all scorers on Golden State with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists to go with 2 blocks. Draymond was the man in this game, and he's the biggest reason why they won the game.

Three weeks later, their second game against each other came at the Q in Cleveland, and this one was much different than the first one. The Cavs were now 28-11 and the Warriors were 38-4, but this game wasn't close at all. Steph Curry would have what I feel is absolute best game against Cleveland with a 35 point performance on 12 for 18 shooting and 7 for 12 from three with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in only 28 minutes of playing time. Andre Iguodala was also a big part of the game, contributing 20 points as the Warriors would crush the Cavs 132-98 to continue their win streak over the Cavaliers. After these two meetings, it seemed the Warriors had the upper hand in this growing rivalry and if the two teams met in the Finals again, it might be a repeat of the previous year.

However, after the Cavs ran through the weaker Eastern Conference in the playoffs (a sweep of the Pistons, a 2nd round sweep of the Atlanta Hawks, and a 6 game win over the Toronto Raptors), the Warriors would face the worst possible injury as their unanimous MVP Steph Curry was injured in the first round (though the Warriors still defeated the Houston Rockets in the first round in 5 games) and came back before he was 100%. His inconsistent play was clearly due to an injury, but of course, in the playoffs, those things don't matter. After completing a 3-1 comeback against the Thunder, a battle tested Warriors went into the Finals banged up but ready to compete with the Cavs. For some reason, the Cavs just couldn't get their rhythm and ended up losing the first two games in big blowouts, with a ton of contributions from the Golden State bench. After a big blowout win from the Cavs in game 3, the Warriors bounced back on the wings of a great Steph Curry performance in game 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the playoffs. However, an incident provoked by LeBron James (it clearly was) led to Draymond Green getting suspended by the NBA for Game 5, and the Warriors would lose their no. 1 rebounder and rim protection in Andrew Bogut as the game was close.

After this, the Cavs would take full advantage and run away with game 5. The same could be said for game 6, as Harrison Barnes shot horribly from the field, and Steph Curry was ejected late in the game. Without Bogut and a healthy bench (Ezeli and Iggy were both less than 100%), the Warriors struggled to gain rebounding and had lost the momentum. While the narrative for Cleveland the year before was that they weren't completely healthy, many rejected the notion that perhaps Steph and his subpar play was due to his injury, Bogut being out was vital, and that losing Draymond in game 5 was a big shifter. Whatever the narrative is, the Warriors ended up losing the series and blowing a 3-1 lead, which has been the longest running joke for the NBA in quite some time. Injuries or not, the Warriors had a chance to win and had home court advantage, and couldn't get it done. To think, the Warriors had ran through the regular season with such a heavy fight as the 73-9 team who broke the 20 year record set by Michael Jordan and the 1996 Chicago Bulls, but in the Finals, when they should have closed out Cleveland, they couldn't get it done. They were banged up, exhausted, and outplayed by the tougher and slightly more rested Cleveland team. The fact remains the Warriors should have won the title in 2016, much like a healthy Cavs team would have won the title in 2015. With the two back to back meetings in the Finals now over with, the Cavs celebrated their first NBA Championship while LeBron celebrated his third Finals MVP and made history in his own right by leading the Cavs (alongside Kyrie Irving, who was just as vital) to an epic comeback from a 3-1 deficit. It was the first time in NBA Finals history that had been done.

This year's Finals hasn't been 100% set this yet, but it seems like a formality as I mentioned at the beginning of the season. The Cleveland Cavaliers were designed for Eastern Conference dominance and after winning the NBA Title, they were picked as the favorites to win it again.... at least up until July 4th. When Kevin Durant announced he would sign to the Golden State Warriors, the world was shocked but intrigued. Many criticized the move as the weakest move a star player could make, others called KD a snake for how he left, and others thought the situation would never work. Surely, Durant would mess up the flow of the offense and the Warriors wouldn't be as effective right? Surely, the Spurs having Lamarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Patty Mills, and other pieces would stop the Warriors this year right? Surely the Houston Rockets, with all their new weapons or a defensive team like the Utah Jazz could stop this team who seemingly was expected to falter on defense due to the offensive nature of their game. Surely, someone could stop the Warriors right? Well, if there was one team who had the formula, it was Cleveland right?

This season, the two meetings between the last two NBA Champions was honestly interesting to watch, and could possibly be an indicator of what is to come if both teams are healthy. While the Warriors were still going through growing pains with adding Durant into the offense, it seemed as if the Cavs were riding a high heading into their 2nd straight Christmas matchup. To be completely honest, the Warriors got out to a huge lead and seemed to be cruising to a victory, but the Cavs started making shots once the Warriors got comfortable and slacked off on defense, an issue that we've seen happen with the Warriors a few times this regular season. The Cavs would get away with two non foul calls late in the game (being at home they have that advantage anyways), as well as avoiding a clear and obvious technical foul on LeBron James. Still, all this aside, the Warriors were led by Kevin Durant this game, as Steph Curry seemed to struggle against the Cleveland defense from the field. Klay Thompson put up 24 points, while LeBron and Kyrie put up 31 and 25 points respectively, leading Cleveland to a last second 109-108 victory. It seemed like Cleveland had the tools to compete and defeat Golden State.

However, in their second meeting, a few weeks later on MLK Day, an entirely different Warriors team showed up to play. The Warriors had began to show that they were able to ramp it up and be as tough as can be during big games. In the midst of what was essentially one of their biggest stretches, the Warriors demolished the Cavs 126-91, in one of the most lopsided victories we've witnessed. By this point, the Cavs had added top tier shooter Kyle Korver, but he would be ineffective in this game for the most part, though still scoring 11. LeBron finished with 20 points on the night and Kyrie finished with 17, but the real story on the night seemed to be the play of the Warriors on their Strength In Numbers game, as Steph finished with 20, Klay dropped 26, Durant put up 21, Iggy put up 14, and Draymond had a triple double. The five best players on the Warriors all showed up when it counted and the Warriors would have their season series be tied up 1-1 with the Cavs, much like in 2015. As the teams finished out the regular season, the Warriors were once again 67-15 (just like in 2015), and the no. 1 seed, while the Cavs were the no. 2 seed (just like in 2015) with a 51-31 record. As the playoffs started, many wondered what would be the next move for both teams. The Cavs would start the playoffs with the Pacers as their first round opponent, while the Warriors would begin with the Blazers as their first round opponent. The path to round 3 for the Warriors had begun.

Potential Third Straight Finals Match 
There's no telling who will win this year in the Finals between the two. Some say the Warriors have gotten off easy in the Finals due to injuries to key players in two of the three teams (while George Hill is important to Utah, I think the Jazz were capable without him due to their solid secondary guard) they've faced so far. The biggest advantage the Warriors have claimed in the playoffs came at the expense of the Spurs in the Conference Finals. Going into Conference Finals, the Spurs would lose Tony Parker, and in the 2nd half of game 1, the Spurs would lose their best player in Kawhi Leonard to an already nagging ankle injury. The first round was a tale of two separate stories for both teams. The Warriors had breezed by the Blazers with a solid game 1 victory, a game 2 blowout without KD, a comeback win in game 3 without KD, and a game 4 blowout with KD finally back in the lineup. On the flip side, the Cavs struggled with the Paul George led Pacers. Game 1 was close and the Pacers blew a chance at a victory on a missed shot by CJ Miles, and they lost by one point. The Pacers hung tough with the Cavs in game 2, but would come up short, and the Pacers seemed to have the Cavs number, leading by 26 at halftime in game 3 before choking and slowing the game in the 2nd half. Game 4 was another close one, but the Cavs prevailed in the closest sweep in NBA playoff history. The Pacers should have won 2 of those 4 games, possibly three, but they had far too many bad shots taken in clutch time. The Cavs didn't look extremely invincible in this series. The Warriors however, looked about as invincible as they could considering they had Durant, Matt Barnes, and Shaun Livingston injured during the first round (yes Nurkic was out for 3 of the 4 games for Portland, but let's not forget the facts).

The second round was interesting, as the top defensive team in the regular season, Utah Jazz came into Oracle Arena to give the Warriors a test, while the Cavs took on the team of the Toronto Raptors, a team the Cavs beat in 6 games last season during the Conference Finals. The Raptors seemed to not believe they could defeat the Cavs and they were subsequently swept by the Cavs in mostly easy fashion. DeMar Derozan had seemed to give more than enough credit to the Cavs and LeBron specifically, and despite a few close moments in the series, the Cavs handled them easily. The Warriors took control of a defensively strong Jazz team and barely fell behind of trailed in the series. They swept the Jazz in what I consider to be a mostly impressive series, and this also helped continue the momentum of the Warriors, who had notoriously been struggling in game 3 in most of their playoff series the last 2 seasons. Behind excellent play from both Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, along with a great defensive effort from Draymond Green, the Warriors would end up walking away with 4 straight wins and advance to take on the San Antonio Spurs, while the Cavs prepared to take on the Boston Celtics in the Conference Finals.

Now, the Conference Finals are underway and aren't fully finished, but the obvious answers to who will be in the NBA Finals seems to be clear. The Cavs and Warriors were both undefeated in the postseason so far after the Warriors stood at 11-0 (with a possible chance at going 12-0 and advancing against the Spurs tonight), and the Cavs stood at 10-0. With the Celtics, the Cavs' opponent in the Conference Finals, without their top player Isaiah Thomas, it seemed the Cavs would coast to yet another sweep. Many of us wondered who would break first, the Cavs or the Warriors and lose. The Cavs would lose game 3 to an IT less Celtics team 111-108, and now they will at least have to go back to Boston for one more game and for the first time this season, they will face a game 5 in the playoffs. Now, I expect the Cavs to win at least in 5, and at the very best 6 games (the Celtics could use the momentum and get a victory in a game 4 or 5), but does this help or hurt the Cavs going into the Finals? One has to think it slightly hurts the Cavs, as they were coasting and that unstoppable momentum is gone. They were destroying teams so easily that the reality check and a tough loss to an undermanned team at home could dent their confidence. It could also help the Cavs to get even more focused, but as we've seen this year, the Cavs aren't a top defensive team in the NBA unlike the Warriors, who have been getting it done on both ends of the floor consistently.

So who wins this eventual third matchup between these two powerhouses? That remains to be seen, BUT I've always said I expected the Warriors to win this season, with the Cavs possibly coming back next season to win another one. I think we will see Warriors vs Cavs in the Finals for at least another season following this one, and it's already the Lakers vs Celtics of this era, and the addition of Kevin Durant made it apparent. Both of these juggernauts will bring their A game into the Finals, but for the Warriors, if they manage to defeat the Spurs in game 4 (by the time you read this, they may have already), they might want to make more history and sweep the Cavs and through the playoffs. Is it possible? Yes, as a well rested and healthy Warriors team would have slightly fresher legs than the Cavs and when the Warriors are healthy and on a mission, they tend to make history (they put a lot of energy into going 73-9, and accomplished one of the most shocking goals). Will the Warriors sweep through the entire playoffs? I don't think LeBron and Kyrie would really allow it, but as KG once reminded us, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. The Cavs vs Warriors part 3 could be the crowning of a new era in the NBA for the Warriors, or the official coronation of LeBron James as the 2nd greatest player of all time in the NBA (which will likely happen when his career done anyways, since he's not ever going to be able to surpass Jordan). Will Durant get his first ring? Will Steph redeem himself in the Finals and keep up his amazing playoff play? Will LeBron win ring no. 4? Will Kyrie and Love show up big time? Can Draymond put on yet another amazing defensive performance in his best defensive season yet? Will Klay finally show up in the playoffs consistently? These questions and the fact that these two teams are the best in the entire league will have the world watching. Yes, this is a rivalry and it's the most exciting rivalry in the entire NBA. Let's go, June 1st. You can't get here soon enough.



Popular Posts