The Golden State Warriors finally got their first win against the Cleveland Cavaliers since Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals with a breathtakingly dominant 126-91 win in Oracle Arena on Monday night. There were mitigating factors for the Cavs, like the Warriors being considerably better-rested and having homecourt advantage, plus the loss of Kevin Love for the second half, but none of those felt all that relevant in the context of Golden State’s comprehensive dominance.
LeBron James had said there isn’t a rivalry between the two teams before the game, but the Warriors’ attitude, and Draymond Green afterward, said otherwise.
“Yeah, I think this is a rivalry,” Green said quickly, not allowing a reporter to finish his question. “It’s definitely fun. A team that you beat, beat you, it’s definitely fun. If you look at the last two years and this year, we’ve been the top two teams in the league each year, and so I look at it as a rivalry, and it’s definitely a fun game to play in.
Green is a ball of intensity on the court even when he isn’t facing the Cavaliers, but it was obvious how desperately he, his Warriors teammates, and the Oracle crowd wanted that win, and the Cavs were swept away by that tidal wave of emotion. Green also picked up another flagrant foul for plowing into James to cut off a fast break, and received a double technical with Richard Jefferson for jawing after the play.
Draymond made sure to let everyone know he thought LeBron flopped, but Bron disagreed after the game.
“I think his shoulder hit me in the face,” James said. “It happened so fast, I didn’t even know who it was. But I’m all right. I’m a football player.”
Maybe LeBron got hit harder than even he thought, if he forgot what sport he actually plays. But regardless of whether he embellished the contact, it was most certainly a collision, and one indicative of how badly both teams wanted the victory. It may be cliche to call it a playoff atmosphere, but it certainly felt like a rivalry until the fourth quarter, when the reserves came out to finish off garbage time.
After the game, LeBron stuck to his guns and still insisted Warriors-Cavs isn’t a rivalry, citing historical precedent:
“I don’t think there’s a rivalry. It’s two great teams that have aspirations. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a rivalry in the NBA. It’s just that too many guys move and go places and change different locations. It’s totally different from the ’80s, when obviously we saw the Celtics and the Lakers go at it so much, and I don’t look at it as a rivalry.”
We respect LeBron’s love of NBA history, but the Warriors and Cavs have met in two straight NBA Finals, and seem poised in a collision course for a third. If this isn’t a rivalry in today’s game, we don’t know what is.