NBA Finals: Cavs Warriors A Rivalry For The Ages
Posted: 2018-05-31

For an unprecedented fourth straight season, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will face off in the NBA Finals. Here are 25 reasons Cavs-Warriors is a rivalry unlike any we've seen in sports.

1. LeBron vs. Steph: Game of thrones

LeBron's arrival in the NBA was forecasted, telegraphed from Akron, Ohio, before he even reached high school. Stephen Curry sneaked to the top in the middle of the night when nobody was looking. Now every year is another opportunity for them to reaffirm their mutual dominance over the NBA's new golden age.

Lest you forget, LeBron was the original modern unicorn -- a physical force of Russell's height, a wizard with the vision of Cousy and a rim-attacker who can fly like Erving. Yet as we watched LeBron master all skills, we became infatuated with one: the smooth, silky, 3-point shot. And nobody fired it with greater spontaneity, speed and joy than Curry.

While James perfected the game, Curry defined it, and masters don't take kindly to those who mess with their trade. As Steph stepped into the spotlight a couple of years back, LeBron intimated that specialists don't warrant MVPs, and the two jawed at one another in the 2016 NBA Finals, when LeBron exacted revenge.

Basketball has enough love to go around, but LeBron and Steph will forever battle over influence, over whose handprint left the most indelible impression over the game they both love.

-- Kevin Arnovitz

2. Who has Warriors paranoia?

Early in 2015-16, Cavs players would have the TV on when reporters entered their locker room after games in Cleveland. If the Warriors were playing that night, their game was frequently on the massive screen. While not all of the Cavs players would sit at their stalls and tune in, LeBron would hardly ever miss an opportunity to watch the new "darlings" of the NBA.


When word began to spread that the Cavaliers were suffering from "Warriors paranoia," the team started turning off the TV or changing the channel prior to the media entering the locker room. From then on, the Cavs did their best to dispel the narrative that they were concerned about the Warriors.

-- Chris Haynes

3. Curry and coffee dehydrate Delly

It was the finest moment of Matthew Dellavedova's career, but he could barely move. His entire body seized up in the cold tub after his 20-point explosion in Game 3 of the 2015 NBA Finals, and he was carried to a table, where several trainers tried to relieve massive cramping. Soon an IV was started and he ended up spending the night in the Cleveland Clinic. That was the toll that scoring 20 points and chasing Steph Curry around for 40 minutes took on him.

Some suggested the cramping was a result of his habit of drinking coffee at his locker pregame. Desperate to recover for Game 4, Delly skipped the coffee, then went just 2-of-9 and wasn't as active defensively. In Game 5, he did the same, and Curry did this:

By Game 6, a ball boy was sneaking into the media room to fetch Delly some coffee. But Delly went 0-for-3 as the Warriors won the title that night.

-- Brian Windhorst

4. Big win for small ball

Small ball is made for LeBron and Steph, and each asserts their dominance in this brave new world. Many a night, LeBron stands as the biggest player on the floor -- and the most skilled -- while Steph dominates from a perimeter stretched far too thin for a shot of his speed and exactitude.

Small ball has been a gift for NBA fans, but even more so for dynamic players who, little did we know, just needed a little space to show off their supreme talents.

When Steph's Warriors prevailed over the Cavs in 2015, it was now clear that not only could you get away with small ball, it was your best chance to conquer the modern NBA. The Warriors' offense was too overwhelming, and the versatility of a small-ball lineup actually helped craft a defense that could respond to any challenge. With that, the game was changed forever.

-- Kevin Arnovitz

5. MVP off the bench

Nobody's made a bigger difference in Cavaliers-Warriors matchups than Andre Iguodala. Incredibly, Cleveland has had the upper hand with Iguodala on the bench, outscoring Golden State by 47 points since 2014-15 (though the Cavaliers are minus-7 against those lineups this season). Put Iguodala on the court and the Warriors dominate: they're plus-218 (including plus-10 this season).

Golden State made that change down 2-1 in the 2015 NBA Finals, when assistant coach Nick U'Ren suggested the Warriors start Iguodala in place of Andrew Bogut, giving rise to the "Death Lineup." Golden State won the next three games and Iguodala was named MVP. Iguodala also replaced Harrison Barnes as a starter in the 2016 NBA Finals, a testament to the value of his ability to defend LeBron James one-on-one.

-- Kevin Pelton

6. More than a few choice words

The hype surrounding Cavs-Warriors has been only amplified by the shade and #petty remarks both sides have engaged in. Do they hate each other? Not really. You still see their marquee players buddy up with USA Basketball. But there is a healthy level of annoyance, fueled in part by the fervent fans who inundate the timelines of players from the opposing team with trash talk year round.

It's a mixture of entertainment and ego, and it's all rooted in pride as the two sides pass the conch back and forth.

"I felt like we would've definitely won an NBA championship if we had everyone healthy."Kyrie Irving, who was injured in Game 1 of the 2015 Finals

"Obviously, walking in the locker room, it'll be good memories. Hopefully, it still smells a little bit like champagne."Steph Curry

"I think sometimes the word 'valuable' or best player of the year, you can have different results."LeBron James after Curry won his second MVP award in 2016

"I guess his feelings just got hurt."Klay Thompson on LeBron after Draymond Green's suspension in 2016

-- Dave McMenamin

7. Warriors expedite Blatt's exit

In January 2016, Cleveland was sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings with a 28-11 record, appearing destined to make it to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season. But after a 34-point trouncing at home by Golden State on MLK Day, management convinced ownership that a coaching change was necessary. Cavs players who had given David Blatt a chance finally withdrew their support, too.

For the Cavs, it wouldn't have mattered if they went 80-2 during the regular season. If those two losses were blowouts to the Warriors, it would have been viewed as unacceptable. Their goal was to win a championship. If they didn't have hope of beating the Warriors in the NBA Finals, the season would be a waste. Thus, Blatt was ousted a few days later.

-- Chris Haynes

8-10. Cavs' motivational tactics pay off

The speech: After being blown out in Game 2 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Cavs assistant coach Phil Handy asked to address the team. Normally a grinder who does his speaking in practices, the Oakland native stunned even his fellow coaches with a visceral rant in which he challenged the team to improve its focus. The players were moved by the moment and it was a building block for Game 3, which the Cavs won by 30.

The email: At the Cavs' next low point, after Game 4, another unexpected fiery challenge came from GM David Griffin, who is also known more for being staid than commanding. He composed a stream of consciousness email and sent it to every player. To make sure they read it, he printed copies and handed them to players as they headed to the plane for Game 5:

"WE HAVE SEEN NBA HISTORY IN THE MAKING EVERYDAY HERE. It's not "why not us?" It's "What the [expletive] else would we do?" We love it harder. We love it RECORD-SETTING. You know in your hearts and in your minds we have been the NBA DRAMA KINGS since we came together. I bet you can, and I'd love for you to add to this HISTORICAL DATABASE. What else speaks to you about the RECORD-SETTING insanity that has been YOUR CLEVELAND CAVALIERS! Let me be the first to tell you, NBA HISTORY HAS BEEN WAITING ON US."

The money trick: Lastly, after winning Game 5, it was coach Ty Lue's turn. Copying a tactic from mentor Doc Rivers, Lue got in front of the team in the postgame locker room and asked for $100 from every player, coach and everyone in the traveling party, including the owners. When it was over, there was $5,500 in cash. Lue said the team would have to come back to get it, which meant they'd have to win Game 6 in Cleveland to come back for Game 7. He got on the desk in the coaches office and stuffed the envelope in the ceiling. He retrieved it six days later after the Game 7 victory.

-- Brian Windhorst

11. LeBron cements his legacy

In the early-morning hours after the Warriors' Game 4 victory that made it 3-1 in the 2016 NBA Finals, James composed a group text and sent it to his teammates. "No matter how we got to this point, we're here now. We have to go to Golden State for Game 5 and we have to come home anyway. So why not come home and play a Game 6. Let it go, play hard, be focused, follow my lead, and I'll make sure you get home for a Game 6."

Here was James' lead: He averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 9.6 assists in Games 5-7, arguably the finest three-game performance in his career, considering the circumstances. His triple-double in Game 7 at Oracle Arena was remarkable, and his blocked shot on Iguodala was iconic. The Cavs followed LeBron's lead, especially Kyrie Irving, and the team completed the greatest comeback in league history.

-- Brian Windhorst

12. The suspension (and text) that changed it all

Draymond Green watched Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals on a television from a suite at the Oakland Athletics game. NFL star Marshawn Lynch and Warriors general manager Bob Myers were by Green's side as he served a one-game suspension after punching LeBron James in the groin in Game 4. Myers didn't stick around long as he departed after center Andrew Bogut suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Green's dream was to take a tunnel that connects the Oakland Coliseum to Oracle Arena and run to the floor in triumph as confetti fell from the rafters after the Warriors became 2016 NBA champions without him. But Green watched a nightmare unfold instead as the Warriors lost.

James and the Cavaliers went on to win Game 6, too, to force a series-deciding contest in Oakland. While Green played arguably the game of his life in Game 7 with game-highs of 32 points and 15 rebounds, the injury-plagued Warriors ultimately fell to James and Irving.

After Game 7, perhaps feeling guilty, Green texted Oklahoma City Thunder free agent Kevin Durant about joining the Warriors. On July 4, Durant set off fireworks by picking Golden State, quickly easing the pain of the Finals loss.

-- Marc Spears

13. Twitter rants and a flying mouthpiece

It's hard to know where to start in explaining how absolutely nuts Game 6 of the 2016 Finals and everything around it was. Should we begin with the bus carrying the Warriors family and friends being significantly delayed from entering Quicken Loans Arena because they were stuck behind Jay-Z and Beyoncé? Or NBA security detaining the father-in-law of two-time MVP Stephen Curry because he resembled a man who'd sneaked into several NBA games with fake credentials?