The Ali-Frazier of NBA Finals tips off Thursday night and there is no truth to the rumor that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will have cut men seated at the end of their respective benches.
Then again, it might not be a bad idea.
For all the incredible wealth of talent that will grace the Oracle Arena court, what makes this Finals even more tantalizing than the last two is the dastardly disdain the Cavs and Warriors have developed for one another.
Surely, although he says otherwise, it wasn’t coincidence that LeBron James, the most talented of them all, wore an Ultimate Warrior T-shirt when celebrating last year’s epic victory over what turned out to be the not-so-ultimate Warriors.
And Draymond Green, who is as subtle as firetruck barreling down 7th Avenue, issued a warning earlier this season. When asked what he would like to do to the Cavs if they were to meet for a third straight time in the Finals, Green saw red, which he often does.
“I want to completely destroy them,’’ Green said.
Green and the Warriors get their chance. It is an opportunity they have pined for since blowing a 3-1 series lead last year and losing. It marked the first time in NBA Finals’ history that a team had blown a 3-1 lead.
Even worse, if you’re a Golden State fan, it came after the Warriors had set an NBA record with 73 wins in the regular season. The loss was the equivalent of enjoying a five-star dinner only to have the soufflé collapse.
Warriors owner Joe Lacob proclaimed that Golden State was “the better team.” He has also said the Warriors had “unfinished business.”
Can’t we all just get along?
Nope. Not Cleveland and Golden State.
The Warriors beat the Cavs two years ago in six games. Cleveland was without Kevin Love, who missed the series after Boston’s Kelly Olynyk attempted to perform his version of Tommy John surgery on the Cavs’ power forward in their first-round playoff series.
Kyrie Irving was lost after the first game of the 2015 Finals with a fractured kneecap. No Irving. No Love. No contest.
The Warriors won Game 6 in Cleveland. When they returned to Cleveland last season for their first game against the Cavs in Quicken Loans Arena, Steph Curry drew first blood.
“Obviously, walking in the locker room, it’ll be good memories,’’ Curry said. “Hopefully, it still smells a little bit like champagne.”
The Warriors seemed destined to go back-to-back. They were better last year than in 2015 and they had championship experience.
But Green decided to go south of the border, striking James in the groin in Game 4, which Golden State won to take a 3-1 lead.
Green was suspended for Game 5. The Warriors didn’t win another game.
James, looking to fulfill his promise to bring a title to Cleveland, was also now playing with a chip on his shoulder.
“As a competitor, I love going against Draymond and I’m all about going out there and leaving it out on the floor,’’ James said. “But when it gets a little bit more than what it should be, that’s what caused me to have words with him.’’
Klay Thompson decided the best way to put out this fire was to pour gasoline on it.
“I guess his feelings just got hurt,’’ Thompson said of James.
As for hurt feelings, nothing hurts quite as much as blowing a 3-1 lead, losing Game 7 on your home court and hearing Dennis Rodman trash talk you.
The Warriors signed Kevin Durant, making their roster the unofficial Western Conference All-Star squad. Golden State, which has been without coach Steve Kerr (back) for much of the season, went 67-15.
Cleveland, which added Kyle Korver and Deron Williams, went 51-31. The Cavs have been installed as a heavy underdog.
“The whole underdog thing is funny to me,’’ Love said. “Because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title.’’
Did you hear that, Golden State? It’s Cleveland’s title, words not often written. Yes, the Warriors know who wears the crown.
“I want to completely destroy them,’’ Green said at the start of the season. “No ifs, ands or buts about it. That won’t change.
“I’m not saying we’re going to look forward to that. Like I said, there’s a long road ahead. And it’ll be a tough, tough road to get there. Nonetheless, if we get there, and they get there, I want to destroy them. Really ain’t no other way to put it.”