Over the ESPYs last Wednesday, Draymond Green said that he was “live from LA, home of seven professional basketball teams — and the [Los Angeles] Clippers.”
To some, it sounded like a cheap shot thrown at a franchise who, deserving or not, has found itself at the butt of a lot of jokes. To me, it sounded like so much more. It sounded like a player who has been championing the idea of the “New Media” and who is trying to actively write his own narratives this upcoming season, laying the seeds to do just that ahead of a possible Western Conference showdown.
It sounded like motivation meant to inspire what Green expects to be “a real threat and problem”. But, mostly, it sounded like a punch thrown across the aisle at one of the NBA’s stealthiest but nonetheless deepest on-court rivalries over the last decade.
It sounds like a bizarre statement, but it’s no less defensible. They’ve played opening night games against each other. They’ve spent Christmases visiting each other. Being in the same division means more regular season games played, which leads to more highlight-able plays filmed against each other.
It pains me to say this, but if you ever find yourself on the “Steph highlights” section of Youtube (which I wholeheartedly endorse doing, every now and then, if just to remind yourself how insanely good a human being can be at throwing a ball into a basket), you’ll notice that a lot of his best plays come against the Clips.
Who can forget that time he dribbled through the entire Clippers team? Or the time he made Chris Paul touch earth (I know, I know, technically Paul stepped on his foot, but that won’t stop Golden State Warriors fans from bringing it up so I’m not going to let it stop me now).
Speaking of which, the fans seem to agree. Believe me, a Clippers fan who grew up in the Bay Area, there is no love lost between the two fanbases.
And the Clippers were able to land a few blows on the NorCal dynasty as well. As absurd as it sounds, the Clippers remain to this day the most recent Western Conference team to eliminate the Warriors in the playoffs. It’s true — 2014 was the last time the Warriors made the playoffs but missed the Finals.
And the last time the two teams matched up, it was as beautiful of a David vs. Goliath story as any, complete with the largest single-game postseason comeback in league history. Simply put, the narratives seem to love swirling around these two California teams.
This season, those narratives are circling like vultures. Analysts have already began their game of “who can make the bolder prediction earlier?” The result of which have found the Warriors and Clippers being brought up together often, and usually followed closely by the words “Western Conference Finals”. Early sportsbooks routinely have the Warriors and the Clippers at the tops of their Western Conference odds list, as well.
The heart of any rivalry is similarity, and the Clippers and Warriors are no different. They play in the same division. They’ve both been good, if not title contending teams, for the better part of the last decade. And in recent seasons, even their playstyles align.
Yes, the Clippers’ offense is a bit more structured while Golden State’s flows a bit more freely. But in broad strokes, they both love to go small, they both pride themselves on two-way play, they both found success shooting 3s, and they’re both led by an elite coach deploying generational talents. Besides, who can matchup with the Warriors’ guards as well as the Clippers’ wings?
I can’t tell you which team will come out on top this year. But one thing is for certain: this season should be one for the books. The most talented team the Clippers have put together coming up against the purest iteration of the Warriors, fresh off a championship.
In the landscape of the NBA, their rivalry is like a mountain, and it sure feels like we’re approaching the pinnacle of it.