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

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

BOSTON — Well, now we’re swearing at each other, and complaining about it. There is trash talk and tangle-ups and coaches declaring, “I’d get a double tech” if 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 is what builds rivalries.”

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

If there has been a surprise so far in the finals, it’s that Bostonians are surprised at Green’s behavior. Have they not watched the NBA, and especially the finals, over 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 perhaps a little more jarring. Klay Thompson facetiously used the word “classy.” We as a sports society have apparently gravitated toward saying whatever the heck we want 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 pick on him?

“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.”

But the F-word is not exactly new 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 was 6. Everyone in 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 though there was only one right thing to do at that particular moment in time, and he was doing it.

Who among 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, with his middle finger flying high? The fans will hate him for it.

The Celtics’ players? See, that’s not really 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 the ones who carry grudges. Curry, born in Akron, Ohio, could, to this day, win an election for dog catcher in northeast Ohio while carrying roughly zero percent of the vote among women age 55 and up. (My mom may or may not have been included in exit polling for this one.) He did too much shimmying, smirking and 3-point splashing while beating the Cavaliers all those years.

Rivalries among players tend to last longer when there is actual violence — and not the face-to-face kind. It is far 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 so far.

The 2022 finals has a little edge to it, to be sure, but we’re a long way from anything that lasts.

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

“It was one of 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 know, I think that’s why the clapping started, then he kind of bumped me, and that’s when I took offense.”

Williams is 23 years old. Born in Houston, educated at Tennessee, this is his first taste of playing for pro basketball’s ultimate prize. He made the mistake of admitting in an interview that he looked up to 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 want to be me.” That was the game in which Green decided to turn up his ornery in general.

Green’s defense for his behavior was, basically, he started it.

“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.”

This is Looney’s seventh season, all of which have been with the Warriors. Frankly, it was a little off-putting at first to hear him compare the chippiness in this series to some of Golden State’s past battles.

“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.”

Playing the Cavaliers in four consecutive finals — and because of that, on three straight Christmas days — is how real, franchise-transcending rivalries start. Like the Lakers-Celtics feud that still exists at some level, even though they haven’t played each other in a finals since 2010.

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

LeBron James baited Green into a flagrant foul that got him suspended in the 2016 finals. Thompson responded by telling LeBron — from the dais — that this 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.

By the following 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 know) and Green have embarked on multiple business ventures together. Oh, and LeBron has said he’d love to play with Curry in the NBA.

So much for that rivalry.

I know I’ve brought this up a couple times in stories this week, but in the heat of a finals, 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 line, you’re not supposed to love anything about the opponent. Or so we thought. (Tatum and Green won a gold medal together 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 nobody 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 is a better chance Green hosts Williams on his podcast and the two launch a shoe line together.

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

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