By Matt Citak
As sports fans, we sometimes take things for granted. It’s not entirely our fault. In this day and age, it just seems as if we’ve just seen everything. So when something truly special happens, it doesn’t always attract the appreciation it deserves.
Such is the case for the amazing rivalry that has developed between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers over the last few seasons.
We have seen some mighty clashes over the years. There’s no denying that the competition during the 1980s between Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics was fierce.
From 1980-1989, at least one of these two teams was represented in each NBA Finals. The Lakers took home five titles, while the Celtics managed to win three. Los Angeles and Boston owned the decade, but at the end of the era, these two legendary franchises only met in the championship three times in four years.
A look at rivalries in other sports reveals similar storylines.
The Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers lead the way for the NFL, having met three times in the Super Bowl. However these three match-ups occurred in 1976, 1979, and 1996. You’d have to go all the way back to the early 1950s, before the NFL-AFL merger, to find the same two teams vying for a championship in three consecutive years (the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, 1952-1954).
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In the NHL, you also have to turn back the clock to the early 50s, when goalies did not wear face masks, to find the sport’s latest and only trilogy. The Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens met in the Stanley Cup Finals from 1954-1956. No two teams have done this since.
It’s been almost a century in MLB. The New York Giants and the New York Yankees are the only teams to meet in three straight World Series, and it happened from 1921-1923.
Intense rivalries, at the highest level, do not happen often. This is why what the Cavaliers and Warriors have accomplished over the last few years is a truly spectacular.
For the first time in American sports history, two teams will go toe-to-toe in the championship for the fourth consecutive year.
But it didn’t always look as if the Warriors and Cavs’ round-four matchup would happen.
Golden State dealt with injuries to all four of the team’s all-stars this season. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry sat out the most of the four, combining to miss 45 games during the regular season. Curry was also absent in the postseason until Game 2 of the Conference Semifinals.
Golden State then had to get past a Houston Rockets squad that led the league in wins and was structured to match up against this Warriors squad, which obviously was no easy task. They lost former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala in Game 3, and found themselves down 3-2 — backs to the wall — heading into Game 6.
But the Warriors battled and found a way to persevere, winning Games 6 and 7 to clinch their spot in the Finals.
Things looked even more uncertain in Cleveland this season. After Kyrie Irving forced his way out of town last summer, LeBron James was left with a rather weak supporting cast.
Upon struggling throughout the first half of the season, the Cavaliers shook things up at the trade deadline. Cleveland sent six players packing to various cities while infusing the team with some youth by acquiring Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., George Hill and Rodney Hood.
The Cavs finished the season as the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed, and needed seven games to get past the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. Things also looked gloomy during the Eastern Conference Finals, as James and Co. went down 3-2 against the Celtics.
But as we’ve seen many times before, James put Cleveland on his back and guided the team to back-to-back victories, even playing all 48 minutes in Game 7.
LeBron has now scored 612 points in the 2018 playoffs, the most ever in a single postseason heading into the Finals. He needs only 148 points to break Michael Jordan’s record of 759 points in the 1992 postseason, and considering that he is averaging 34.0 points per game through the first three rounds, this seems like a realistic accomplishment.
So NBA fans, one year later, we are right back where we left off — Golden State vs. Cleveland, Round 4. And everyone should be thrilled with this Finals matchup.
We must applaud what these two franchises have done over the last four seasons. We should enjoy watching five of the last six NBA MVPs who will play in this matchup.
And, most importantly, we should appreciate the moment, as we are watching something that has never been done before, and may never happen again.
We are witnessing American sports history.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.