We’re three games into the NBA Finals, and we’ve already seen a lot of jaw jackin’, complaints about that jaw-jackin’, techs, and some notable tangle-ups.
At this point in the season, with everything on the line, that’s what basketball and team sports are really all about. Who has the mental toughness, health, and confidence to drag their teammates across the finish line to win a championship?
In Kevon Looney’s opinion, the intensity of this Finals series between Boston and Golden State is what births excellent rivalries.
“That’s what makes it fun, makes it special,” Looney said Thursday per The Athletic. “That is what builds rivalries.”
To hear Looney, who has played all seven of his season with the Warriors, compare the Warriors-Celtics series to some of Golden State’s previous battles, like their battles with Cleveland, is fascinating.
The Cavs and Warriors played against each other in four consecutive Finals series and three straight times on Christmas days. Playing that often on the big stage is sure to garner some bitterness and helps build tension that could match the legendary Lakers-Celtics matchup or the mutual hatred Chicago and the Bad Boy Pistons have for each other.
“It’s right up there,” Looney said. “I’ve been here for a long time with the Warriors. We’ve played Houston a lot of times that got chippy. Playing Cleveland every year in the finals, it was real intense.”
The intensity and physicality of the Finals thus far seem to stem from the antics of Draymond Green. The 2016 Defensive Player of the Year has already drawn a tech after mixing it up with Grant Williams in Game 2. In some eyes, he was dangerously close to getting another after a dust-up later with Jaylen Brown in the first half of the same game.
Green embraced being the bully that game and his reputation as the hard-charging do-everything enforcer of the Warriors precedes him. However, Boston responded in Game 3 and bullied the bully. Boston punched Golden State often and early, dominating the inside as they put Green and Stephen Curry in foul trouble, preventing them from keeping or even establishing their rhythm early.
To top it all off, when Green fouled out after pushing Marcus Smart off Curry, who looked to have tweaked his regular-season ending sprained foot during a late scramble for a loose ball, the Celtics faithful rained down thunderous “F— you, Draymond” chants on the emotional leader of the Warriors.
Boston fan or not, though, Green is doing everything NBA fans are used to seeing him do in the Finals. The reactions from both sides are interesting to see; Green’s wife taking issue isn’t surprising, especially when you have your kids with you. But Klay Thompson calling out Boston for being “classy” is even more interesting.
After playing at least a decade in the NBA, Green and Thompson came up together in the League and have surely heard worse. At this point, Finals vets like Green and Thompson know that playing at the championship stage draws a little something more out of not just your opponent but their fans too.
“Not the worst things I’ve heard,” Williams said.
“Some of those chants, you just accept,” Williams said. “Some people respond to them well; some embrace them. Others, they shy away from them — Especially if you’re on the road, like, you’re going to get that no matter where you go. You walk down the street; you’re going to get something like that.
“For me, it’s like, you got to accept it.”
This year’s Finals do indeed have an edge to them. When it comes to team x and team y having a grudge with one another, it’s more likely you see the upstart Grizzlies and veteran Warriors developing a rivalry than Golden State and Boston. Memphis and Golden State have faced off in the playoffs in consecutive years, with both sides playing increasingly physical with each other.
Warriors fans and players have a grudge against Dillon Brooks; Memphis will remember Curry’s “Whoop that Trick” retort and Green’s hard fouls too.
The closest thing that the Warriors-Celtics series has to that is whatever is brewing between Green and Williams. The two have had to be separated a few times this series for getting tangled up and talking at each other. The intensity between the two seems to be fueled by Williams’ comments saying he used to admire Green while playing college ball at Tennessee.
During Game 2, Green could be heard telling Williams, “You’re not me; you want to be me.”
“When a guy comes and starts … when you say that and then you start talking junk to me, then yes, I’m going to say something about that,” Green said. “I didn’t say anything about that in Game 1 because he wasn’t talking to me. I’m not going to go watch his press conference where he gives me props, where he appreciates my game, and then go throw it in his face.
“Once he starts going at me, and it got chippy, and he’s yap, yap, yap — all right, bro, you can’t say that and then come and say this.”
With Friday’s Game 4 approaching, according to Looney, Draymond Green hasn’t allowed his teammates to be friendly with the Celtics.
“He makes sure that there ain’t no friends on the court,” Looney said. “Ain’t no helping nobody up, none of that extra stuff. We follow his lead in that regard. It’s been like that since I’ve been here.”
Down 2-1, they can’t afford to be friendly with their opponents, it’s do-or-die time, and the Warriors can’t afford to lose with the series shifting back to San Francisco for Game 5. Green will have to respond and play with an intensity similar to Game 2 and set the tone early in Game 4. Warriors fans have to hope that Curry stays off his left foot and treats it around the clock and that Thompson can record a second consecutive notable performance as the Robin to Curry’s Batman.