The animosity is apparent. Bad blood spills out like one of Jason Kidd's sodas. The energy is electric, eclipsed only by the star power on the floor.
The Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors look, sound and act like NBA rivals.
"It's going to be a blood bath, probably," Warriors center Andrew Bogut said during an appearance on KNBR before the Pacific Division foes started their opening round series, via Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. "...There will probably be some casualties. We really don't like the Clippers, and they don't like us."
That's been clear for a while. When these teams can't even share chapel services together, it becomes obvious this isn't your run-of-the-mill division matchup.
When there's nothing more than a second-round ticket up for grabs—and that easily qualifies as the stakes being at their highest for these teams—something else becomes evident: This is not a rivalry. Not in the classic sense, at least.
"Forgive me," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said in January, via Marcus Thompson II of Bay Area News Group. "I was raised on Magic and Bird. Lakers and Celtics. Yankees and Red Sox. Real rivalries. So let's pump the brakes a little bit."
Excluding the decades of futility between them, this rivalry essentially consists of a handful of regular-season matchups and a pair of playoff games (one of which was decided by 40 points). Beyond some outstanding offensive performances, their recent meetings run together in a forgettable stream of verbal altercations, nonstop whistles and the occasional shoving match.
Every now and then, something has broken the mold and grabbed our attention. Like a "Bazemoring" Warriors bench clowning Blake Griffin's bad miss from the three-point line, for instance.
Or Jermaine O'Neal confronting Griffin in a Staples Center hallway and telling him, "Man, I’m a monster off the court,” via Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.
Or a war of words pitting one player against an opposing coach.
Griffin had a verbal sparring session with Jackson during the teams' first meeting of the season. During L.A.'s 138-98 rout of Golden State on Monday, it was Clippers coach Doc Rivers exchanging words with O'Neal.
For the most part, though, it's been what you'd expect from two teams that don't like one another.
Warriors forward David Lee and guard Klay Thompson have both called out Griffin for flopping. Jackson hasn't quieted his players. Instead, he's echoed the same sentiments. "He's a great actor," Jackson said in January 2013, via Chris Strauss of USA Today. "I've seen those Kia commercials."
A tightly contested matchup on Christmas night saw Griffin get tangled up with both Bogut and Warriors forward Draymond Green. Both Warriors bigs were hit with flagrant foul calls for the altercations, each of which also gave Griffin a technical foul.
"If you look at it, I didn't do anything, and I got thrown out of the game," Griffin said, via Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles. "It all boils down to they (the referees) fell for it. To me, that's cowardly. That's cowardly basketball."
Rivers didn't disagree with his rising star.
"Honestly, I thought we were just kicking their butts and they went to something else, to be honest," the coach said, via Markazi. "But that's fine."
The blame game runs deep between the two sides, and we've yet to see any pointed fingers find their way to a mirror. That's pretty basic Rivalry 101 material.
What separates these teams from other division foes is the parallels running between them.
Each carries itself with a certain level of pride and confidence handed down by its charismatic coach. Both teams have superstars at the point, shooters along the wings, stat-sheet-stuffers at the 4 and, when Bogut is healthy, rim protectors manning the middle.
They've grown defensively, but both still do their best work at the opposite end (the winning team in the six meetings this season has averaged 116.7 points). They're climbing the NBA ladder but are still incredibly new to this scene. The Warriors haven't advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs since 1976. The Clippers have never moved past that point.
There's more substance to these meetings than ever before, but what's the last great rivalry to hang its hat on a first-round matchup?
I'm not denying the existence of bad blood between them, nor should anyone.
"If you had to pick a series Most Likely to Include a Brawl, this is where you would make your wager," Sheridan Hoops' Chris Sheridan wrote.
But animosity alone doesn't make a great rivalry. It takes years of repeated clashes, top-shelf competition and significant prizes attached to the outcome of these games.
This seems to be headed in that direction, but it's not there yet.
All of the ingredients are in place, but a pile of raw materials build itself. There's a process that needs to play itself out.
These playoff meetings need to happen with more regularity. There can't be as many qualifiers attached to their standings as championship contenders. If these two become true elites, then we'll have a truly elite rivalry.
For now, let's just appreciate it for what it is: a wildly entertaining playoff series—maybe the best one going in the opening round.
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