There’s been a whole lot of talk about how this year’s NBA Playoffs have not been good. No real drama. Two dominating teams. A lack of parity. That all might be correct. And up until this point, it has been a pretty uneventful postseason slate.
The primary reason for this is the utter domination we have seen from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors — teams that have squared off against one another in each of the past two Finals.
Do you see a theme here? Maybe the playoffs have lacked drama because Cleveland and Golden State are saving it for the championship round in June. Maybe that’s what the NBA needs. The continuation of a rivalry the game has not seen since the Celtics and Lakers of the 1980’s.
Here are six reasons why we should all be rooting for another NBA Finals between the two best teams the Association has to offer.
1. Bragging rights
We hear it from fans in both Cleveland and Oakland. One fan base will point to the 2015 NBA Finals. The other one will choose to check out the results of last year’s championship round.
While fans in Ohio might be justified with their focus on Cleveland overcoming a 3-1 series deficit last June, Warriors supporters will point to how the team locked LeBron James down in 2015. It’s a never-ending cycle — one that has to be considered annoying to fans that don’t support either team.
Why not settle this once and for all in a series that would mark the first time two teams have played in the NBA Finals in three consecutive years? The winner can lay claim to holding the title as this era’s most-dominant franchise. While still likely on contention next year, the loser will have to return to the offseason with the 28 other clubs who did not hoist the Larry O’Brien.
Let’s say either Cleveland or Golden Stat loses in the conference championship round. Let’s also assume under this hypothetical that team doesn’t make it back to the Finals with its current cast of players. Any idea of one squad holding bragging rights would be thrown out the window. Let’s decide this in a final series with all the chips on the line. It was meant to happen. It’s destiny. It’s LeBron vs Stephen Curry. Let’s do this. Once that happens, maybe it will be time to move on from this annual show for good.
2. The rivalry
We will focus on Draymond Green a bit below. He’s definitely making sure that his voice is heard (imagine that). But what about lesser-known trinkets to take out of a potential Cavaliers-Warriors rivalry?
There’s no telling when Steve Kerr will return to the Warriors’ sideline. It might not happen in the playoffs at all. That would leave Mike Brown as the team’s acting head coach for the Finals.
Yes, the very same Mike Brown that helped lead a then young LeBron James to the Finals with the Cavaliers exactly a decade ago. The very same Mike Brown that returned to Cleveland after LeBron parted for South Beach. Raise your hand if you even thought about the possibility of the two going up against one another with a championship on the line. We didn’t think so.
Some will conclude that Brown’s success in his first go-around with Cleveland had more to do with King James dominating the Eastern Conference. And while Brown won’t get a ton of credit should Golden State earn the title this June, bragging rights between the two would surely be on the line.
Let’s also look at Curry vs James for a second here as well. That’s nine combined NBA Finals appearances, four NBA titles and six MVP awards between the two.
It’s the two players that have dominated this era of the Association. Two players that have gone up against one another with the title on the line in each of the past two June’s.
More than anything, there’s very little reason to believe that this isn’t the top rivalry in the game today. Sure Golden State and Cleveland play only twice annually during the regular season. Sure a major expanse of North America separates the two in terms of geography. That’s fine. It’s still a rivalry.
“I think a lot of people wanted to see Boston and the Lakers back in the day,” Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said about the rivalry this week, via ESPN. “I think nowadays, a lot of people want to see Golden State-Cavs. And it’s not a problem. Right now, it’s two of the teams playing some of the best basketball right now.”
Most people focus on a lack of parity in the NBA today. These very same people seem to forget that parity has never really existed on the hardwood.
Whether it was the 80’s Celtics and Lakers or Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, the recent history of the NBA has been filled with super teams going up against one another or dynasties making their mark in the history books. Why is this somehow so different?
Speaking of rivalries …
3. Draymond’s drama
The Cavaliers are apparently boring to watch in the playoffs. Green’s comments focusing on the team his Warriors went up against in each of the past two Finals are rather interesting.
“When you watch Cleveland play, you only watching one side of good basketball,” Green said earlier this week. “That’s kind of weak. I like watching a good game, not even necessarily that it’s going to be a close game. I like to watch teams playing good basketball.”
If watching a team play truly dominating basketball is “boring,” it looks like Green’s own Warriors squad has cornered the market on that. After all, Golden State boasts the same 8-0 record as Cleveland in the playoffs. Its margin of victory in those eight games is 16.4 points compared to 9.7 for the Cavaliers.
While this didn’t stop Green from backtracking on his statement, it’s also not really the point. Both teams have proven to be dominant. This was just the All-Star’s way of attempting to throw shade Cleveland’s way.
This also isn’t the only thing Green has thrown in the direction of his team’s most-difficult rival. Remember, he was suspended for Game 5 of the NBA Finals last June after kicking James in the groin. This eventually helped Cleveland overcome a 3-1 series deficit, something James made sure the Warriors did not forget about.
See. This is what the rivalry is all about. Trash-talking off the court. High intensity play on the court. Two teams with an abundance of talent going at it. Two teams that simply do not like one another. Green epitomizes this more than any other player on either roster.
4. Durant vs King James
It’s not a secret that Golden State signed Durant way from Oklahoma City this past summer with LeBron in mind. While Andre Iguodala did a bang-up job against James in the Finals back in 2015, not a single player on the Warriors could match him last June. Durant can. At least, that was the Warriors’ mentality when they met him in The Hamptons.
What we do know is that Durant is a four-time NBA scoring champion. He’s earned an MVP before. He’s been the reason a team made the Finals. Durant is one of the top three or four players in the world. That’s not in question.
In what was an interesting turnabout during Durant’s first season with the Warriors, his defense spiked up a great deal. No longer relied on to pack as much of a scoring punch, Durant was able to focus on that end of the court. And it paid off big time. Durant finished the regular season sixth in the NBA in defensive rating. That ranked higher than James be a mile and was the forward’s best mark of his career.
We know Durant can score. We know that he is one of the only players on the Warriors that can be utilized in isolation when it comes to Kerr’s offense. That’s led to a whole new level of offensive efficiency from the two-time defending champs. But that wouldn’t necessarily be Durant’s primary task against Cleveland. Instead, it would be to stop the monster that is LeBron James.
It would also be a repeat of the 2012 NBA Finals, when James earned his first title with the Miami Heat. It’s a series that saw him average 28.6 points and 10.2 rebounds. Meanwhile, Durant put up nearly 31 points per game. How sweet would it be for Durant if he were to earn his first title against a player in James who hoisted the Larry O’Brien for the first time after beating Durant’s Thunder five years ago?
5. Improved organizations are rewarded
There was a time not too long ago that top-end free agents balked at the idea of signing with the Warriors. Remember, they were the laughingstock of the NBA for a good 18-year span — one that saw the team earn one playoff appearance and lose 50-plus games eight times. This forced Golden State to overpay for the likes of Mark Price and Corey Maggette. Remember them? We didn’t think so.
Even as Golden State turned the corner following the sale of the team from Chris Cohan to the Peter Guber/Joe Lacob group, the organization’s primary philosophy was to build from within. Hence, the Stephen Curry extension, focus on Klay Thompson as his running partner and the Draymond Green draft class. Prior to Durant, the team’s biggest free-agent acquisition was Iguodala. It isn’t like Golden State has built a contender by signing free agents and pulling the wool over the head of opposing teams in trades.
What changed here was the organization. It went from one under Cohan that didn’t necessarily value the players and the community to a franchise that is now seen as one of the best in the professional sports world. First-class organization. Doing everything the right way.
In reality, the same idea can be thrown Cleveland’s way. Whether you were a fan of James moving on to Miami doesn’t really matter here. He’s homegrown talent in the truest sense of the word. An Ohio kid. The No. 1 overall pick of an Ohio-based NBA team. A player that legitimately rejuvenated downtown Cleveland when he returned prior to the start of the 2014-15 season. Add in Kyrie Irving also being an original member of the Cavaliers, and this is magnified further.
Some will point to the Kevin Love acquisition as a way to throw this idea out the window. But remember, Cleveland yielded two No. 1 overall picks (Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett) for Love. That wasn’t necessarily a lopsided trade by any stretch of the imagination.
The idea here is that Cleveland and Golden State didn’t build contenders by buying star players. They had a philosophy — most of it to build a construct from within — and executed it perfectly. It should be how teams look to build themselves from here on out.
6. LeBron James
Six consecutive NBA Finals appearances. The reigning NBA Finals MVP. There’s so many accolades that can be thrown James’ way before we start sounding like fanboys. But what he has done over the past decade or so around the Association is absolutely stunning. This year’s playoffs are just another example of that.
Through the first two rounds, James is averaging 34.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.1 assists. He’s adding 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Did we mention that James is also shooting at a 56 percent mark from the field, including 47 percent from distance? If he were to lead Cleveland to a second consecutive championship, it would go down as one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of the NBA.
Potentially standing in James’ way is a Warriors team that has remained a thorn in his side. While Cleveland did pull off an amazing comeback in last year’s NBA Finals, the previous June still sticks out in the star’s mind. Considering Green’s comments about the Cavaliers and the history between these two players, we know James is taking note. Give this dude bulletin board material, and see what happens.
Why not let James show off his historical on-court ability and domination against a Warriors squad that boasts an absurd 207-39 mark over the past three seasons. That’s the best going up against the best. And it’s something we should be rooting for.