When Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green reached their first NBA Finals together in 2015, it coincided with LeBron James’ return to Cleveland. The two teams would face off for the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time that summer, a rivalry in its infancy. By June of 2018, the Warriors and Cavs had played each other four straight times for the right to be crowned champion, with the Warriors besting Cleveland in three of those four meetings. Through roster changes, marquee free agent additions and trade demands, one thing remained a constant: LeBron James was always in the Warriors way.
That’s what makes the 2019 NBA Finals so strange. It will be the first time the Warriors, looking to threepeat for the first time since the Los Angeles Lakers did so in the early 2000s, will face a different opponent on their quest for their fourth ring together. With LeBron out of the playoffs entirely, a result of his drama-filled first year with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors await either Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors or Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks out of the East as their next opponent. There won’t be any more stays at Cleveland’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. No more post-championship debauchery at Morton’s Steakhouse. It will be an entirely new experience for the Warriors, and it’s kind of freaking Green out.
“It’s just weird to look over there to know that you’re going to play someone completely different,” Green told Bleacher Report. “It’s kind of a mindf*ck.”
Even Kevin Durant, who joined the Warriors two years into their rivalry with the Cavs, only knows taking on LeBron in the Finals. When Durant reached the pinnacle for his first and only time with the Oklahoma City Thunder, their opponent was LeBron’s Miami Heat. LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh dispatched the Thunder in five games for LeBron’s very first ring.
“It’s just weird,” Green said. “More as a basketball fan than anything: ‘Damn, Bron not there.’ It’s super weird. You always relish the opportunity to play against a talent like that.”
If LeBron finishes his career out West, the Warriors will obviously never face him in the Finals again. But with the Lakers hoping to reload this summer and add another star alongside their future hall of famer, perhaps a meeting between the two old foes in future Western Conference playoffs is still in the cards.