In tomorrow’s Christmas matchup, the Warriors and Cavaliers will meet for the 15th time in the last 19 months. If all goes as expected, they’ll meet again next June in their third straight NBA Finals.
Cleveland-Golden State is becoming the rare cross-conference rivalry.
Could it eventually match the greatest rivalry in NBA history, which was also inter-conference?
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was asked: Does Cavs and Warriors stack up with the Lakers and Celtics?
“Well, it’s a lot of championships won in that era,” Lue said. “But if both teams stay together and both teams continue to keep winning, it could be like that. They have a great team over there on the other side and we have a great team also, so when you talk basketball, you’re going to talk Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio. That’s who you’re going to talk about. And it’s a great place to be in.”
The Lakers and Celtics have met in 12 Finals. The Cavaliers and Warriors have combined to play in just 11 Finals – only five since the NBA-ABA merger – let alone against each other.
In the 1980s, the Lakers and Celtics featured the greatest individual rivalry in NBA history – Magic Johnson-Larry Bird – and that was boosted by racial dynamics that can’t be duplicated now. Bill Russell-Wilt Chamberlain was also special in the 1960s, when the centers repeatedly battled. LeBron James and Stephen Curry, a forward and a point guard playing in a more-tolerant era, just don’t hold up as individual rivals on that scale.
But the Lakers and Celtics never met in three straight Finals. (No teams have.) So, Cleveland and Golden State could put an unprecedented stamp on their rivalry.
Catching Lakers-Celtics, though? I suppose it’s possible, but it’ll take years for this comparison to get serious. An entertaining Christmas game could at least be a step in that direction.