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In 2022 NBA Finals, there are ‘no friends on the court’ … but a rivalry?


BOSTON — Well, now we’re swearing at one another, and complaining about it. There may be trash talk and tangle-ups and coaches declaring, “I’d get a double tech” in the event that they were playing.

The 2022 NBA Finals are only three games old.

“That’s what makes it fun, makes it special,” Golden State Warriors vet Kevon Looney said Thursday. “That’s what builds rivalries.”

If there’s a single storyline that’s drowned out the others thus far on this Warriors-Celtics finals, it’s Draymond Green, right? His tech and near tech. His taunting of Grant Williams, who admitted to looking as much as him. The Celtics striking back against Green in Game 3, fans included, with their “F— you, Draymond!” chants.

If there was a surprise thus far within the finals, it’s that Bostonians are surprised at Green’s behavior. Have they not watched the NBA, and particularly the finals, during the last decade? Green hasn’t done or said one thing to anyone wearing green that we hadn’t seen or heard from him before.

Hearing about 20,000 people screaming, in unison, the golden obscenity in Green’s direction is probably slightly more jarring. Klay Thompson facetiously used the word “classy.” We as a sports society have apparently gravitated toward saying regardless of the heck we would like to anyone, at any time.

“Not the worst things I’ve heard,” Williams said. Though, to be clear, he’s talking about his fans in Boston. What’s he going to do, rip them for ripping the player who’s trying to choose on him?

“A few of those chants, you simply accept,” Williams said. “Some people reply to them well, some embrace them. Others, they shrink back from them. … Especially should you’re on the road, like, you’re going to get that irrespective of where you go. You walk down the road, you’re going to get something like that.

“For me, it’s like, you bought to just accept it.”

However the F-word isn’t exactly latest to sports. I remember sitting in Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium for the 1986 season’s Browns-Jets playoff game (actual date, Jan. 3, 1987). I used to be 6. Everyone within the stands hated Jets defensive lineman Mark Gastineau, and I remember the guy next to me standing and flipping off Gastineau, double barrel, for several minutes while nodding his head. It was as if there was just one right thing to do at that specific moment in time, and he was doing it.

Who amongst us doesn’t foresee Green walking off the court in Game 4, headed for the TD Garden tunnel, and more broadly, a plane back to San Francisco, along with his middle finger flying high? The fans will hate him for it.

The Celtics’ players? See, that’s probably not how this works.

Things like AAU, player mobility and Team USA have essentially ruined rivalries between players. Most beefs, scraps and playoff series end in mutual respect, friendship and even being teammates. Remember, Kevin Durant played against the Warriors before he played for the Warriors.

The fans are those who carry grudges. Curry, born in Akron, Ohio, could, to today, win an election for dog catcher in northeast Ohio while carrying roughly zero percent of the vote amongst women age 55 and up. (My mom may or may not have been included in exit polling for this one.) He did an excessive amount of shimmying, smirking and 3-point splashing while beating the Cavaliers all those years.

Rivalries amongst players are likely to last more when there’s actual violence — and never the face-to-face kind. It’s way more likely the Warriors’ players hold a grudge against Dillon Brooks of the Grizzlies for what he did to Gary Payton II than against any Celtic for what’s transpired in these finals thus far.

The 2022 finals has slightly edge to it, to ensure, but we’re a good distance from anything that lasts.

Early in Game 3, Williams and Green needed to be separated. There was some jawing and clapping, in addition to a chest bump. Williams had forgotten he began it, then remembered mid-sentence when asked on Thursday.

“It was one in all those … actually, I did say something,” said Williams, chuckling. “I just realized. It’s not PG, so I’m not saying it. Next thing you realize, I believe that’s why the clapping began, then he sort of bumped me, and that’s after I took offense.”

Williams is 23 years old. Born in Houston, educated at Tennessee, that is his first taste of playing for professional basketball’s ultimate prize. He made the error of admitting in an interview that he looked as much as Green while he was in college. Green heard it, and microphones picked up Green saying to Williams in Game 2, “You’re not me, you would like to be me.” That was the sport through which Green decided to show up his ornery on the whole.

Green’s defense for his behavior was, mainly, he began it.

“When a man comes and starts … while you say that and you then 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 after which 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 may’t say that after which come and say this.”

That is Looney’s seventh season, all of which have been with the Warriors. Frankly, it was slightly off-putting at first to listen to him compare the chippiness on this series to a few of Golden State’s past battles.

“It’s right up there,” Looney said. “I’ve been here for a very long time with the Warriors. We’ve played Houston quite a lot of times that got chippy. Playing Cleveland every 12 months within the finals, it was real intense.”

Playing the Cavaliers in 4 consecutive finals — and since of that, on three straight Christmas days — is how real, franchise-transcending rivalries start. Just like the Lakers-Celtics feud that also exists at some level, although they haven’t played one another in a finals since 2010.

The Warriors and Cavs got off on the appropriate foot toward hating one another, with Curry saying the visitor’s locker room in Cleveland still smelled like champagne when Golden State returned for the primary time since its 2015 title.

LeBron James baited Green right into a flagrant foul that got him suspended within the 2016 finals. Thompson responded by telling LeBron — from the dais — that it is a man’s league. Then, after the Cavs won that finals in seven games, LeBron wore an Ultimate Warrior T-shirt on the plane home and threw a Halloween party with cookies that looked like Warriors tombstones.

Asked Klay Thompson about those Cavs cookies here in Portland, and he had a really Klay answer: “Yeah, I do not get it, cuz I’m not dead.” pic.twitter.com/O8M71zcqi6

— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) November 1, 2016

By the next summer, though, with the Warriors having won Round 3, Kyrie Irving was outed for hanging with Curry at Harrison Barnes’ wedding and making fun of LeBron.

And now, LeBron (a Laker, as you realize) and Green have launched into multiple business ventures together. Oh, and LeBron has said he’d like to play with Curry within the NBA.

A lot for that rivalry.

I do know I’ve brought this up a pair times in stories this week, but in the warmth of a finals, just just a few minutes after getting punked by Green and the Warriors in Game 2, Jayson Tatum said “we love that about him” when referencing Green’s intensity.

With a finals on the road, you’re not imagined to love anything concerning the opponent. Or so we thought. (Tatum and Green won a gold medal along with Team USA last summer in Tokyo, and so it goes.)

To Green’s credit, Looney said Green makes sure the Warriors, at minimum, don’t get chummy while the series is ongoing.

“He makes sure that there ain’t no friends on the court,” Looney said. “Ain’t no helping no one up, none of that extra stuff. We follow his lead in that regard. It’s been like that since I’ve been here.”

Will this budding Warriors-Celtics “rivalry” endure? There may be a greater probability Green hosts Williams on his podcast and the 2 launch a shoe line together.

(Photo of Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and Grant Williams: Winslow Townson / USA Today)

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