The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers made NBA history with their third subsequent appearances in the Finals, a feat that had yet to occur in the league. The highly anticipated series had fans rallied on both sides of the court, and shaped one of the greatest rivalries the NBA has ever seen – especially this season, with Golden State’s addition of Kevin Durant.
Recent memory evokes a Golden State Game 5 victory against a group of hopeful Cavs. Considering the California-based squad intentionally crafted a superteam specifically to contain LeBron James in hopes of dethroning the defending champs, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the series did not make it to a Game 7 finale.
Golden State’s ascension, along with a supercharged roster, sets them light-years ahead of other teams. That being said, Cleveland is faced with making some difficult roster decisions in the offseason to prevent a potential Golden State dynasty.
Read on to see how this fierce rivalry all began and what events led to each team’s claim of national basketball supremacy.
NBA Finals Three-Peat
2015 NBA Finals: During the summer of 2014, King James abandoned the surf and sand offered by Miami’s beaches and returned to Cleveland for a heartfelt homecoming. The Ohio ballers were anticipated to be a dominant force in the league, but the Warriors shattered all expectations.
The Dubs took the league by storm with newly hired Steve Kerr at the helm of the team. The Cali-based squad was led by the NBA’s most valuable player, Steph Curry, as well as breakout baller Draymond Green. Needless to say, each “superteam” cruised their way into the Finals.
As history tells, karma doomed King James and his beloved Cavs. The first blow was delivered when Kyrie Irving incurred a broken knee during Game 1. James attempted to carry the undermanned team and even secured two victories for the Cavs, but it wasn’t enough. Chef Curry and the Warriors powered through to down the once-feared Cavaliers in Game 6 to end the franchise’s 40-year championship drought. Andre Iguodala was crowned as the 2015 Finals MVP.
2016 NBA Finals: Revenge was the Cavs’ theme this season and fueled them into another Finals appearance. The Ohio-based squad endured a rough regular season, but a new coach, Tyronn Lue, ignited a new flame at the core the franchise. Curry became a dominant force in the league and launched the Warriors to another level by posting a 73-9 record – a first in the NBA.
The outmatched Cavs were on the verge of defeat for the second year in a row, as the end of Game 4 marked a 3-1 Warriors lead. But one Game 4 incident between Draymond Green and LeBron James changed the trajectory of the entire series.
Green was suspended for Game 5, and the Cavs pounced on this “golden” opportunity. Dominant performances by James, Irving, and Kevin Love ultimately led to the Cleveland players hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy over their heads. And of course, King James was rightfully named the 2016 Finals MVP.
2017 NBA Finals: The Warriors and Cavs meet for a third clash in the 2017 NBA Finals. The first two games of the series resulted in unexpected blowouts, with Golden State crushing the Cavs at home and again at Quicken Loans Arena.
It wasn’t until Game 4 that the Cavs secured their first victory against the NorCal superteam – giving Cleveland fans hope for another 3-1 comeback. Unfortunately, the Cavs fell short. Between KD’s unstoppable form and Chef Curry’s impressive performance, the Curry-Durant tandem came full circle.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were poised with a challenging Game 5 at Oracle Arena. Between the hostile environment and the Dubs energized lineup, the Cavs fell short – handing the Warriors another championship title. Kevin Durant emerged as the Finals MVP and made a point to heap glory on his new partner in crime, Steph Curry.
All They Do Is Win
While the Finals come jam-packed with buzzer-beating moments and heated courtside exchanges, the regular season primes the pump for the drama to unfold later.
The rivaling Cavs and Warriors compete in different conferences and have only faced off against each other 127 times – easing stress levels of diehard fans. (The Cleveland Cavs contend in the Eastern Conference Central Division, while the Warriors play in the Western Conference Pacific Division).
Golden State leads the rivalry with the most regular season wins – posting 68 victories – and NBA titles. Cleveland trails behind their West Coast rivals with a modest 59 regular season wins and one NBA Championship title.
Cleveland’s storied franchise boasts the longest winning streak between the two squads. The Cav’s downed their coastal rivals during 10 contests over a four-season span from 1992 to 1996. Golden State trails Cleveland’s feat by posting a seven-game winning streak during the 2015 season – sparking a newfound disgust between the franchises.
One cursory glance at the Warriors and Cavs match history, and two dates explicitly stand out: March 8, 1990, and Jan. 23, 1989.
Golden State takes the cake regarding the most points scored throughout previous matchups. March 8, 1990, marks the game day in which #DubNation conquered Cleveland by a 40-point margin (145-105). The Warriors exerted dominance over their future rivals, and rallied behind Hall of Famer Mitch Richmond and forward Terry Teagle as the all-star shooters ran the scoreboard up – swooshing 25 and 22 points, respectively.
Conversely, the Cavs stood in the spotlight a year prior after crushing their NorCal contenders at home by a 33-point margin – posting a final score of 142-109 at the end of regulation. Cleveland benefited from the play of three-time All-Star Larry Nance (22 points scored) and the “Ohio Flyer” Ron Harper (netting 21 shots).
The Heat is On
Between winning their second title in three seasons and boasting a youthful yet experienced roster, the Warriors are positioned for long-term dominance. If the Cavs wish to retake the throne, they’ll need to elevate their gameplay and make pressing decisions during offseason to nurture a sustainable roster. One thing is for certain – the budding rivalry is in its prime and more epic showdowns between the legendary teams are still to come.
Whether you support #DubNation or look to #DefendTheLand, be sure to take part in the rivalry yourself. Update your wardrobe by heading over to Fanatics.com, where you can browse a wide selection of replica jerseys and ultimate fan gear!