The NBA Finals are set, and for the third year in a row, it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. the Golden State Warriors.
This has been the expected result all season, but it’s exciting nonetheless – the league’s two most dominant teams squaring off for a third straight year, something the NBA has never seen.
In addition to the star power of the series, both teams have built a fierce rivalry over the past two years thanks to their Finals matchups.
After the Warriors took the 2015 Finals in six games, with the Cavs missing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavs got revenge in 2016. Along the way, there was a confrontation between LeBron James and Draymond Green, a critical suspension for Green, trash talk between both sides, and of course, a riveting Game 7 that came to down to the final moments.
Here’s a look back at how the two teams built one of the most exciting rivalries in sports.
When LeBron James returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, the Cavaliers looked to be the most dominant team in the NBA. Nobody saw the Warriors coming.
Instead, fueled by the hire of Steve Kerr, the breakout of Draymond Green, and Stephen Curry’s first MVP season, the Warriors took the league by storm, going 67-15. Both teams cruised to the Finals that year.
Almost immediately, the 2015 Finals were delivered a blow when Kyrie Irving broke his knee in Game 1, leaving LeBron James to carry an undermanned group of role players.
- Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
He nearly pulled it off. James averaged 35 points, 13 rebounds, and nearly nine assists per game, winning Games 2 and 3 for the Cavaliers.
However, Stephen Curry, troubled by the feisty defense of Matthew Dellavedova early in the series, eventually broke out and helped the Warriors win their first title in 30 years.
In 2015-16, the Cavs had revenge on their mind, though they stumbled at times through the regular season. Head coach David Blatt was fired and replaced by Tyronn Lue.
Making matters worse for Cleveland, the Warriors took it to another level, going 73-9, an NBA record, while Stephen Curry became the league’s most dominant player.
Both teams made it back to the Finals last season, but the Cavs looked far outmatched, going down 3-1, on the verge of coming up short for a second straight year.
One incident changed the entire trajectory of the series, however.
Toward the end of Game 4, LeBron James and Draymond Green got into a scuffle after James stepped over Green and Green took a swipe at James’ groin.
After the game, both James and Green explained their version of events, claiming the other had disrespected them.
- Via ABC
James said Green had said something that crossed the line. “Some of the words that came out of his mouth were a little bit overboard, and being a guy with pride, a guy with three kids and a family, things of that nature. Some things just go overboard and that’s where he took it.”
ESPN reported that Green called James a “b—-.”
Meanwhile, Green said he felt disrespected by James stepping over him. “I don’t disrespect you on the court. Don’t disrespect me.”
Green was suspended for Game 5, only further setting off the fireworks between the teams.
Klay Thompson and Mo Speights came to the defense of Green. Speights said, “If somebody put [their] balls on your head, what are you supposed to do? … A guy does something like that, you kind of lose respect for him.”
Thompson scoffed at James being offended by Green’s language. “I’m just kind of shocked some guys take it so personal. It’s like, I mean, it’s a man’s league and I’ve heard a lot of bad things on that court, but at the end of the day it stays on the court.”
With Green suspended, the Cavs won Game 5 in Oakland behind dominant performances by James and Irving.
The two combined for 82 points, staving off elimination.
In Game 6, the Cavs pounced on the Warriors, tying up the series. However, more importantly, another incident showed the Cavs had gotten under the Warriors’ skin.
After several brush-ups and exchanges throughout the game, Stephen Curry was called for a foul trying to steal the ball from James.
Curry lost his cool, freaking out on the ref and chucking his mouthguard, which hit a fan. Curry was ejected, to the delight of the crowd.
Game 7 resulted in one of the most memorable games the NBA has ever seen.
A back-and-forth affair nearly the entire game, James had perhaps his career-defining play, chasing down Andre Iguodala late in the fourth quarter for a huge block.
Moments later, with the two teams gridlocked, Irving hit a dagger three over Curry to put the Cavs ahead.
And perhaps the unlikeliest hero, Kevin Love, never known for his defense, came up with a huge stop on Curry in the final minute.
James brought an emotional championship back to Cleveland.
- Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The glory only lasted momentarily, however, as the Warriors almost immediately found a way to get better: They signed Kevin Durant.
- Thearon W. Henderson/Getty
The two teams have continued their chirping all season long.
Green, who admitted the two teams are rivals, also said he wants to “annihilate” the Cavs should they meet in the Finals again.
Iman Shumpert agreed with Green, saying in an interview, “We supposed to hate them, and they supposed to hate us. … I love every bit of it. I’m glad he said that ’cause we gon’ bust they ass, too. You need to type that up: We gon’ bust your ass.”
The teams’ two regular-season matchups didn’t disappoint, either.
On Christmas Day, the Cavs rallied from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter and sealed the win with another dagger from Irving in the final seconds.
The Warriors easily won the second meeting, but perhaps the biggest storyline was a hard foul from Green on James. As James fell down, Green later mocked him by pretending to flop.
In April, Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News said during a podcast that some NBA stars, like LeBron, have “disdain” for Stephen Curry.
According to Thompson, other stars don’t like how quickly Curry has risen to superstardom and how he’s treated by the media. Curry reportedly doesn’t understand it.
Surely, the news doesn’t quite help tensions between the two teams.
While things have cooled down, with neither team seeing each other since January, there have still been some small exchanges.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue recently said the Celtics are harder to defend than the Warriors. Warriors coach Mike Brown called the comment “cute.”
Now, the stage is set for one of the most highly anticipated Finals in recent memory.
- Jason Miller/Getty
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