While the team in Cleveland tonight bears little resemblance to those that spent the last four years battling the Warriors for a title, emotions are still raw - especially when it comes to the fan bases.
But this matchup, hardly a rivalry due to the dominance of a Warriors team that hasn’t just won - but won so hard that they dismantled a team and chased their two biggest stars out of town.
Warriors are in Cleveland tonight— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) December 5, 2018
Since the rivalry started in 2014-15, they faced the Cavs 30 times (including Finals).
Golden State was 21-9 in those meetings with a +231 point differential (7.7 per game)
A Dead Sea of a basketball town
Consider if you will, the Dead Sea or the Great Salt Lake, and the parallels to basketball. You see, all water has some salt in it (just like all fan bases), but there are certain circumstances that can increase the salt concentration so much as to extinguish viable life from those environs. And so it has happened in Cleveland, all their talent evaporated, leaving nothing but salty fans - and a team in desperate need of a talent infusion.
When we first met this team, contender to contender, back in 2014-15, the Cavaliers were healthy and robust. With Lebron James return, Cleveland was able to assemble a fair amount of talent around James - from young, promising point guard, Kyrie Irving, to dynamic stretch four, Kevin Love - this was a stacked team.
Irving missed most of that first Finals to a fractured knee; they came back and won it all the following season, but it took a series of key Warriors injuries and one critical suspension for the Cavs to barely edge out a seven-game victory.
And then things started evaporating. The narrative after that victory was the oft-repeated “Warriors blew a 3-1 lead” meme. Which was weird, since it seemed to be celebrating the Warriors’ defeat more than Cleveland’s championship.
Famously the Warriors added Durant that subsequent offseason and Golden State ran over the Cavs in the 2016-17 Finals in just five games, and the evaporation began in earnest; salt formed quickly.
Kyrie Irving desperately wanted out, threatening to undergo optional surgery rather than endure another year in Cleveland. In just the second season with Kevin Durant, the Warriors had already dismantled Cleveland's title hopes. Though James and the Cavs tried valiantly, there was no chance to compete on the Warriors level any more, and they got swept in the 2017-18 Finals. Surveying the decimated remains of his hometown franchise, James was quick to pull up stakes and move to Hollywood.
Now, a matchup that was so riveting that the NBA designed it’s holiday scheduling around our games, is moribund. As per TickPick spokesperson Seth Gruen, the tickets for tonight’s game tell a clear and transparent tale of how steep the dropoff in this rivalry has been:
Though the Warriors are the hottest road ticket in the NBA, even they can’t generate interest in a Cavaliers game. According to TickPick, the average listing price for tonight’s game is $151. Last year, the average listing price for this game was at $442.
And that fan base? Saltier and saltier with every passing moment. There’s still little apparent joy in the trophy that James brought them; rather Cleveland fans seem to have fully embraced a Machiavellian hate for the Warriors, a team so good that it sucked all the life and talent out of the Cavaliers by simply existing.
Leaving nothing but salt.