Tyronn Lue recently equated Cavs/Warriors to the famed Celtics/Lakers rivalry in the 1980’s. Sure, it’s this era’s equivalent of the Bird/Magic rivalry. But if these meetings between the Cavs and Warriors ever want to surpass those Celtics/Lakers battles (if that’s even possible), a great place to start would be for the games between these two juggernauts to be closer.
In hindsight, Game 1 was not surprising. The Warriors won with ease, making this the tenth out of the fourteen Finals meetings between these two teams in which the game was decided by over ten points. And not to jump to conclusions after only one game, but the Cavs did nothing to dispel the notion that Golden State is unstoppable. Kevin Durant was sensational, pouring in 38 points on 53% shooting while dishing out eight assists without a single turnover. Steph Curry did his thing, too. He knocked down 6-11 three-point attempts and accounted for 48 of the Warriors’ points when factoring in his 10 assists.
Durant and Curry’s dominance sort of reminded me of the feeling when a pitcher is mowing down an opposing lineup. Do you even need people in the field? Despite no other Warrior cracking double-digit points, Golden State had little trouble turning this game into a blowout by the third quarter. And can you imagine if Klay Thompson (3-16 FG, 0-5 3PT) breaks out of his slump? That could truly be too much for Cleveland to handle.
If you originally picked the Cavs to win, or if you were like me and picked Golden State to prevail in a close series, I wouldn’t abandon your predictions just yet. The Cavs were beat soundly in Game 1 last year; then they were annihilated by 33 points in Game 2. Yeah, but Kevin Durant! True. All I’m saying is that a 1-0 hole isn’t insurmountable, even with the Warriors playing like (is it OK to say it?) the greatest team ever.
Since I’m holding off on making any knee-jerk reactions, my main takeaway from Golden State’s blowout victory is that it is a continuation of an alarming trend for the NBA’s premier rivalry. What makes for a great rivalry, anyway? One of the main factors, undoubtedly, is close, memorable games. Take the aforementioned Celtics/Lakers Finals meetings from the ’80’s. Just about half of their games–nine out of nineteen–were decided by single-digits. And of those contests, you had signature moments that even younger fans like me are aware of: Kevin McHale’s clothesline of Kurt Rambis; Dennis Johnson’s Game 4 buzzer-beater in 1985; Magic’s skyhook in ’87.
Look at the peak of the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry in the 2000’s. What do you remember most? Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run? Dave Roberts stealing second? Any of Ortiz’s heroics? Whichever it may be, all of those moments are memorable because they took place with the game on the line.
This Cavs/Warriors rivalry…yes, it’s still certainly a rivalry. After all, they’ve now met in three consecutive Finals. As it stands now, though, there are problems with it being considered a rivalry for the ages. So far, there’s only been one truly classic game, last year’s Game 7. LeBron’s block and Kyrie’s shot will stand the test of the time, no doubt.
Other than that, however, there haven’t been many highlights. The average margin of victory in their fourteen Finals meetings to date has been 14.4 points. And of those fourteen games, twice as many have been decided by over twenty points (4) as by less than five (2). Even two of the more memorable contests outside of Game 7 last year, the back-to-back overtime games to kick off the 2014 Finals, were marred by injuries to Irving and Kevin Love.
Given the way the Warriors dominated in Game 1, the most worrisome part of all is that this trend may not just continue. It could worsen. But since there’s no need yet to make premature judgements, here’s hoping that, for the sake of this rivalry’s legacy, the remaining games are more competitive.
Kevin Durant photo courtesy of Ezra Shaw, Getty Images.