After the Golden State Warriors’ 118-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, it is officially time for the NBA to stop trying to make us care about regular season matchups between these two teams. Almost every NBA Finals rematch has simply not lived up to the hype the NBA has tried to stir up over the past three years.
This rivalry was forged in the fires of the NBA Finals. It wasn’t born of constant division clashes or bad blood between players. In fact, Cavs and Warriors players are almost always very nice to and complementary of each other and their play. Before the game on MLK Day, LeBron James literally hugged Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, the people he should hate the most on this Earth.
Since it was born on one of the biggest stages in sports, it’s hard to care about what these teams look like against each other until they’re back on that stage. The only exciting thing about these games the past three years has been the conversation about potential finals storylines. That’s a fine reason to watch a game during a random Wednesday in November, but it’s not good enough to justify the marquee matchups on the NBA’s most important days.
Since Cleveland and Golden State first met up in the finals in 2015, the Cavs have won exactly one regular season game against them. It was an admittedly exciting and contentious one-point win on Christmas Day in 2016. But it is still only one game.
To find another Cleveland regular season win during the rivalry, you would have to go back to Feb. 26, 2015. Even counting this one is a stretch, because this was before they had met up in the finals. The NBA didn’t even know it was a rivalry yet.
For the sake of sample size, let’s count those two matchups in 2015 towards this exercise.
Including the finals matchups, the Warriors have won 17 of the 26 games these two teams have played. That’s a win percentage of .654 over three-plus years. Considering the teams are in different conferences, that’s complete dominance. It seems even more dominant when you look at it under the microscope that the NBA has forced upon the games.
Not counting playoffs, the Cavaliers are 2-6 in eight tries in the regular season since LeBron returned to Cleveland. That’s not exciting. It’s not something the NBA should plan its entire Christmas Day slate around.
In the regular season matchups, the Warriors have beaten the Cavs by an average of 18.3 points. The Cavaliers have won their two matchups by just 6.0 points.
Since Kevin Durant arrived on the West Coast, the Warriors wins are by an average of 15.3 points if the playoff matchups are included. The Cavaliers have won just twice (again, including playoffs), by an average of 11.0 points. However, that is a bit misleading, considering one of those wins was by 21 points in the finals game where Cleveland scored 49 points in the first quarter and had 86 at halftime.
What does this all mean? It means that when the Warriors win, which is most of the time, they’re almost always winning by over 10 points.
Sure, games can end up with a lopsided score during garbage time that makes them seem less competitive than they are. But with a sample size this large, these numbers don’t lend themselves to putting these games on days where fans are already watching the NBA (i.e. MLK Day and Christmas).
No one can blame the NBA for wanting to use these games to boost viewership and sell ad time at a higher price. That’s business, and finals rematches are a proverbial cash grab in that respect. But people wanting to see these games isn’t the problem.
The thing that’s most glaring about forcing these finals rematches down our throats is that fans are going to watch these games. People who know and care about the NBA are compelled to tune in to see if they are going to be surprised by the outcome.
The real power that these games have are drawing in casual fans, and sometimes even non-fans. Those people are going to tune in on Christmas Day, regardless. So why not save your supposed “big guns” for late February or mid-March, when even hardcore fans might be yearning for something else to watch?
Another solution could be slating one of the matchups for very early in the season, October for instance, and then slating the other one for the spring. After the All-Star break and trade deadline, both teams will more than likely have the identity that they are going to carry into the playoffs. If the NBA is really concerned with giving the fans a playoff atmosphere, then let the Cavaliers, who like to build and fill in gaps through trades, finalize their roster.
Of course, all of this is predicated on the idea that these two teams will meet in the finals again, which is hardly a guarantee this season. Having the games before the trade deadline could be a good plan because the Cavs can see what holes they need to fill to be competitive with Golden State in June.
One of the teams will be there, but we’ll have to wait and see whether or not these marquee matchups were just the final blow to Cleveland’s confidence, or motivation to not get embarrassed on the national stage yet again.
Featured image by Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports
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