The best thing about the 2016 NBA Finals was the upgrading of the rivalry between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. From not liking each other, to openly hating each other, whether it’s LeBron James throwing a Halloween party with plenty of references to his rivals, or Draymond Green openly saying what he wants to do to the Cavs.
The beginning of the season has gone smoothly for the Cavaliers and James. It’s been a bit more rocky for the Warriors, suddenly cast in the role of villains, with everyone not rooting for them to break records, but to lose, now that their “true” faces have been revealed: Arrogant, whiny when things don’t go their way. Draymond Green wasn’t likeable anyway. Kevin Durant made his choice and is living with it. But Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, media darlings not too long ago, are suddenly very easy to look at and only see the negative.
James’ halloween party this weekend had plenty of references to the 2016 NBA finals, including a mention of the 3-1 lead that somehow the Warriors managed to choke away, or tombstone cookies of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, which could be taking it a bit too far in the eyes of some. But all is fair in basketball and war, and for the two best teams in the NBA over the last two years, the stakes just got a lot higher, with plenty of negative feelings spilling in, much more openly than before.
Draymond Green, not Klay Thompson with his failed attempt at trash talking LeBron James (his entire team tried that after Green got suspended for game 5 of the NBA finals), epitomizes the hatred towards the Cavaliers. He was asked in an interview on NBA.com about the prospect of meeting the Cavaliers for a third time in a row to play for the NBA championship. He wasn’t vague about how he felt.
I want to win the Western Conference, try to beat everybody in the Western Conference — which is a tough task. There are so many good teams. So that’s got to be our only focus, to win the Western Conference. And then, if Cleveland comes out of the east, I want to destroy Cleveland. No ifs, ands and buts about it. But I also know that there’s steps to get to that point. And if and when we get to that point, I want to annihilate them. I want to completely destroy them. No ifs, ands or buts about it. That won’t change. I’m not saying we’re going to look forward to that. Like I said, there’s a long road ahead. And it’ll be a tough, tough road to get there. Nonetheless, if we get there, and they get there, I want to destroy them. Really ain’t no other way to put it.
Whether someone told him in his face or not, Green is a big reason why the Warriors lost a 3-1 lead in the finals. His dumb reasoning to try and strike yet another player in the balls got him suspended for one game, and in games 6 and 7, despite playing well, the Warriors couldn’t find their rhythm and scoring again. Green might more of a distraction than let on initially, but he’s also the fire that drives the Warriors on a lot of occasions. Now that Bogut is gone, his energy on defense is even more important. And his presence is a big part of the feud between the teams.
Rivalries that go a bit further than the sports limits are always good for the league and for ratings. Going back only three years ago, despite the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs clashing twice in 12 months for the NBA title, there wasn’t too much animosity generated. But the Warriors aren’t a class act like the Spurs. LeBron James is a different person than he was in Miami. It set the foundation for the fireworks we saw during the finals, including the jawing between James and Curry at some point, giving us a different dimension, not to mention result, compared to the first edition of the final between the two teams.
The Cavaliers are huge favorites to win the East and make it to the finals for a third straight year. It might be more difficult this season than before for the Warriors but overall, it’s probably the least surprising Finals scenario. With all of the baggage from before, you can almost forget Kevin Durant is also thrust into the equation, and his individual rivalry with LeBron. Personally, I think people have it in them to see these two teams clash heads one more time before it gets a bit tiresome.