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While sparks might fly on court during the NBA Finals, Warriors and Cavaliers downplay animosity

Baiting people is Draymond Green’s trade, getting baited is not. So in the waning seconds of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, when Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson told Golden State’s Green to meet him outside, Green didn’t bite.

“I can’t meet him outside of here because I’ll still get fined,” Green said Saturday afternoon. “I can meet him in the streets any day. You can say, ‘Somebody meet you at the bus,’ but hold on I gotta keep taking care of my family. I ain’t going to meet you at the bus. But the summers you can meet anybody anywhere. All the ‘meet me outside, meet me at the bus.’ I ain’t trying to give up no money for that. But you know. If you want to see me somewhere else that’s fine. Anytime.”

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It’s part of why any pushing and shoving in the NBA usually results in no more than that. Rarely do full-blown fights materialize during games, and during the summer, with tempers cooled, most top NBA players are friends.

That wasn’t the case in the past, especially among teams that developed postseason rivalries like the Warriors and the Cavaliers have. But in this series, while annoyance and irritation have seeped through occasionally, the Warriors and Cavaliers are mostly respectful, cordial and friendly.

“This is just basketball,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Part of the game, part of that competitive environment when somebody is in your way of holding the trophy, there is going to be a little animosity and a little edginess, if you will. But at the end of the day, it's basketball.”

It often takes a few games in a series for tension to surface. But this is the fourth consecutive year the Warriors and Cavaliers have seen each other in the Finals, so those issues emerged sooner.

Curry was part of the dust-up near the end of the Warriors’ 124-114 overtime victory that ultimately included Green and Thompson. After having a shot blocked by LeBron James as overtime wound to a close, Curry playfully chided James about not letting him have that one. In no mood for the joke, James appeared to tell Curry to get away from him, and they exchanged heated words. It never truly became a physical situation.

A few years ago, there did seem to be some ill will between Curry and James, but recently, they have come to each other’s defense more often than not.

Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) exchanges words with LeBron James during overtime of Game 1 on Sunday.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) exchanges words with LeBron James during overtime of Game 1 on Sunday. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

James also has a business relationship with Green; they are partners with his media company Uninterrupted.

“Sometimes it gets personal on the floor and it does spill over off the floor,” Green said. “But [otherwise] what you hating somebody else for? I think it’s just a matter of guys figuring it out mentally. Guys being more business savvy than they were before. I think it’s all a byproduct of that.”

Green isn’t the only opponent with whom James has a friendly relationship. The infamous “banana boat” group earned its name when James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul were photographed together riding an inflatable water sled while on vacation.

That friendliness might come from familiarity.

“Bird and Magic they didn’t know each other so they hated each other,” Golden State’s Shaun Livingston said, referring to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. “‘I don’t know this guy, I just know what I see.’ Now you can send a tweet to a guy or pull up a profile. [And say,] ‘I do like this guy.’ ”

Livingston says it isn’t totally dead. He cited some ill feelings between the Warriors and the Houston Rockets as well as the situation from Game 1.

Green is notorious for getting under his opponents’ skin. Thompson insisted he wasn’t goaded by Green in Game 1, but he did draw a flagrant foul near the end of overtime and got ejected. The foul was later downgraded and accompanied by a $25,000 fine.

“As that enforcer for our team and Draymond for his team, I think it is what it is,” Thompson said. “If it had to be two guys that do get into a little scuffle, it would be us two.”

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As for how much things have changed, Thompson doesn’t really believe in the hatred between rivals of yore was as intense as the stories about them suggest.

“Bird and Magic did a Converse commercial together,” Thompson said. “So they didn’t hate each other that much.”

He might have been interested to know this: In a book written long after Bird’s playing career, the Celtics great says that commercial shoot thawed his opinion of Johnson. That’s when the two fierce rivals got to know one another.

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