End of an era: Memories are all that remains of Cavs-Warriors rivalry

Cleveland rebuilds while Golden State's dynasty rolls on with eyes on another title

Daryl Ruiter
December 05, 2018 - 6:21 pm

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – The Golden State Warriors outlasted the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The slugfest between the NBA’s version of the Montagues and Capulets ended the moment LeBron James announced he was headed to the Los Angeles Lakers and Wednesday night’s game was a bitter reminder of an end of one of the most memorable eras in basketball history.

“It’s not a rivalry, it’s another game,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “They’re on their new course trying to build something and we’re trying to continue our run for as long as we can.”

In June the NBA Finals will have a different look than what everyone had become accustomed to over the previous four years when the Warriors and Cavs vied for the Larry O'Brien trophy with Golden State taking home three of them.

Cleveland won just one, which, while ending a 51-year title drought, also led to a seismic shift in power, and eventually forced the Cavs’ collapse. 

What was once the NBA’s premiere matchups reserved for primetime or a holiday was played on a meaningless Wednesday night in early December.

“Considering all the battles we had the last four years here, it was a little weird,” Steph Curry, who dropped 42 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists in the 129-105 Golden State win, said.

The fans that were inside Quicken Loans Arena, where rows of seats were left empty, greeted Golden State with some hearty boos, but the buzz that used to be felt across the NBA when the two teams collided was non-existent.   

The same could be said for the atmosphere within the arena itself.

“It’s just different walking into the building,” Kerr said. “There’s still a ton of great memories, some of the best basketball I’ve ever seen in my life played between these two teams over the last four seasons and obviously they have a new team. So, you move on. Part of me is a little nostalgic for that. I’ll miss that.”

The Warriors were minus Draymond Green, who is recovering from a sprained toe, but they still looked like the unbeatable juggernaut they’ve been while the Cavs are no longer even a shadow of the perennial power they once were in the Eastern Conference.

Golden State’s dynasty rolls on while the Cavs have gone from the penthouse to the outhouse of the league.

James is now a Laker. J.R. Smith is in exile. Kevin Love is still here but is hurt. Kyrie Irving wanted out and his wish was granted with a disastrous trade to the Celtics in the summer of 2017, foreshadowing the imminent collapse of the Cavs.

Tristan Thompson was the lone key holdover on the floor for Cleveland Wednesday night.

He was surrounded by the likes of Cedi Osman, Rodney Hood and Collin Sexton, who were good enough to hang for a just over a half before the Warriors finally put the boots to them with a 71-41 second-half flurry.

“Obviously it’s different,” Kevin Durant said. “They don’t have a championship caliber team. They have a young team that’s up and coming and it’s just a different feel. Different way to cheer for them, different way you gotta as a fan of this team…you gotta kind of be patient with them and as an opponent you realize it’s a different team.”

The two-time NBA Finals MVP, who reshaped the NBA by fleeing Oklahoma City to help Golden State dethrone James and the Cavs to win back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, finished an assist shy of a triple double while scoring 25 Wednesday night.

Gone is the rivalry. Left are just the memories.

Golden State beat a depleted Cavs team, which was without Love and then Irving, in six games in the 2015 Finals. The Cavs answered in 2016 by becoming the first team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the championship.

Then Durant jumped on the Warriors’ bandwagon and the rest is history.

In the 2017 Finals Golden State dethroned the Cavs in 5 games.

A disgruntled Irving demanded a trade out of Cleveland that summer, which paved the way for the Warriors to sweep in 2018 after James virtually carried the Cavs through the East before opting for a fresh start in Los Angeles.

“We’re always going to think about those matchups, even the two before I got here, and for us to have gone back-to-back against this team you always want to think about that stuff,” Durant said. “I’m sure that 2016 Cavs team is going to think about the W in the championship.

“We know it’s a different team, different vibe around the city and around this group and [we should] just appreciate all the memories we had playing against this team.”

The Warriors, who beat the Cavs three times in The Finals – celebrating two of their titles on the floor of Quicken Loans Arena – are still looking to add banners to the rafters and jewelry to their hands while the Cavs are left in utter ruins and trying to pick up the pieces.  

“Yeah, it was a historical battle in terms of how people will look at those four years,” Curry said. “We’re obviously still in a fight to continue to win championships, so we most likely won’t be here in The Finals but in our chase for what’s next, there isn’t much to think about.”

The stakes, intensity and animosity that fueled the rivalry is also now long gone.

“That stuff generally dissipates over time, but I think in this case, it’s an entirely new cast of characters,” Kerr said.

Kerr knows all about dynasties and rivalries that get created as a result of them.

He lived it as a player and now as a head coach.

A five-time NBA champion as a player – three with the Bulls and two more with the Spurs – and three leading the Warriors and all of them coming at the Cavs’ expense in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

“What made this one unique was that it was the same two teams four years in a row, which has never happened in the history of the game,” Kerr said. “And it was LeBron. You’re talking about one of the all-time greats. Maybe this is what other teams felt like when I was with the Bulls and they were playing us. You walk onto the floor and look down and you see Michael Jordan and you know you have to find a way to win the game.

“We had some amazing battles. I will always have great memories, great respect for Ty and his staff and those teams. They were unbelievably competitive and compelling games and I’m glad to have been a part of it.”

As the Warriors left Cleveland, the reality they left behind is that it’s going to be a very long time before the Cavs play meaningful basketball again in April let alone May or even June.

It was quite the ride while it lasted, but it’s all over now.

For the Cavs that is.