The Cleveland Cavaliers had an interesting rivalry midway through the 2010s that saw them meet up in the Finals in four straight seasons. The Cavs often weren’t much of a match for the Warriors, winning just one title during that stretch, but they were able to at least remain competitive with them in those Finals matches. But once the 2016-17 season rolled around, JR Smith knew that the Warriors would be a problem.
Smith was with the Cavs for each of their four Finals runs, and after winning the 2016 NBA Finals, Cleveland was feeling pretty good about themselves. But then Kevin Durant joined the Warriors over the ensuing offseason to team up with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and in that moment, Smith knew that they were going to cause some serious problems for the Cavs and the rest of the league.
"In the heat of the battle, we’re thinking, we have a chance, and we can win, but at the same time, it’s like, 'What the hell are we supposed to do?' You’ve got three Hall of Famers, legit."
—JR Smith, when Warriors got Kevin Durant in 2016-17.
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 29, 2023
Sure enough, Smith was right. The Warriors would beat the Cavs in their next two Finals meetings, before they ended up falling to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Finals, largely due to the injuries they picked up along the way. But at their peak, the future Hall of Fame trio that Smith alludes to was simply too good to stop.
Durant’s stint with the Warriors didn’t last long, but it didn’t do much to slow down the Warriors, who still have Curry and Thompson leading the way. Smith, meanwhile, has since retired from the NBA, but surely will never let the Warriors live down their 3-1 collapse in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Cavs may have lost three times to the Warriors, but that one win may make up for it, even if Smith is willing to admit just how good the Warriors were.