From 2015 through 2018, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors met four times in the NBA Finals. They also met three times on Christmas, two of those at Oracle Arena out in Oakland, California. It was the greatest rivalry in the NBA at the time, but it still fell short of what it could have been.
As we know, Golden State ultimately won the Finals series 3-1 (but that’s also the series lead they blew in 2016) by winning in 2015, 2017, and 2018. But the one major caveat with those 2017 and 2018 titles is that Kevin Durant was with the Warriors. This tipped the scale heavily in favor of the Warriors because that meant they had four superstars: guard Steph Curry, guard Klay Thompson, forward Kevin Durant, and forward Draymond Green.
Many fans and analysts agree that the Warriors caught a bit of break thanks to the injury gods in the 2015 Finals. During Game 4 of the Cavs’ first-round series in 2015 against the Boston Celtics at the Garden, Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk ripped out Kevin Love’s shoulder, meaning he was lost for the rest of the playoffs. Then in Game 1 of the Finals, Kyrie fractured his kneecap.
When Round 3 rolled around between the Warriors and Cavs in 2017, the series was tied 1-1 and it felt like a really bitter rivalry was forming. Perhaps, and I emphasize perhaps, it could’ve reached the level of Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics. During an interview, Draymond Green said: “If Cleveland comes out of the East, I want to destroy Cleveland!” If that doesn’t show the venom in the rivalry, I don’t know what does!
This is just one of a few examples where there was clearly a large amount of disdain between the two teams. Remember Game 6 when LeBron blocked Steph’s shot and then he started talking junk to the unanimous MVP? Or late in the 4th quarter, when Steph fouled out and then subsequently got ejected, he pointed in the direction of LeBron and was basically saying “I’m coming for you!” It almost felt like Curry knew there was going to be a Game 7 back in Oracle since the score was 99-87 when he got ejected. To pour more salt in the wound, the Cavs played Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye while he left the court
For some reason, however, it never felt like the rivalry escalated to the heights that it could’ve reached. There are multiple reasons as to why this could be the case. One of these reasons could be that, unfortunately, it felt very one-sided in favor of Golden State. As stated earlier, the Warriors ultimately won the NBA Finals series 3-1, but all three of those titles have some type of asterisk. Perhaps that’s why the air was taken out of the rivalry’s balloon.
It’s a real shame that this rivalry never quite reached the level it could have because it was enjoyable to watch for the most part. Maybe one day, the two teams will be able to rekindle the rivalry and Cleveland will have a chance to push the record closer to even.