Sports

The Thunder's Beef With the Warriors Won't Be Enough to Make This a Rivalry

When the boos have quieted down and the novelty wear off, great teams still beat good ones.
February 12, 2017, 4:33pm
This rivalry isn't so much of a jump ball anymore. Photo by Mark D. Smith—USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors had beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder by a combined 48 points in their first two meetings of the year, but the buildup to Saturday night's game had a different vibe. It would be Kevin Durant's first outing as an outsider in Oklahoma City: his first time in the visitor's locker room; his first time hearing boos in Chesapeake Energy Arena; and his first time directly seeing the kind of religious devotion Russell Westbrook has inspired by sticking around. Surely all that would count for something?

It didn't. Feelings might factor in with professional basketball games, but they matter far less than talent. The Warriors won by 16, and Durant's 34 points were part of an almost pornographic Golden State box score. Klay Thompson scored 26 on seven of 12 shooting, and Steph Curry added 26 of his own on nine of 19. Heck, even JaVale McGee (?!) tallied 16 on seven of eight from the field—"the field" being the small radius of the court from which seven-foot McGee, who subsists on a diet of pure Silly Putty, might bounce up and mash the ball through the rim.

The Thunder worked for their buckets; Westbrook had 47 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 turnovers, and drove the OKC offense through force of will. But the Warriors got comfortable, dozed, and played in a dream state.

Golden State led by 23 at halftime, and once a blowout was assured, all the requisite stuff unfolded. At the start of a timeout midway through the third quarter, Durant and Westbrook shouted at each other—what they said less important than how they said it: Westbrook nodding violently, Durant kind of shrugging. Minutes later, Durant took a hard foul from Andre Roberson and went forehead-to-forehead with him. Grudges were registered and pride was maintained.

The lasting image from Saturday's game will necessarily involve Durant, the center of both the expert basketball and the interpersonal theater. He tossed up jumpers and glided down the lane, and the Oklahoma City crowd cupped hands around mouths and let him hear it.

A more telling moment, though, came back in the second quarter, when the scoreboard still held as much interest as the players' expressions. Golden State's second unit was stretching out a lead when Shaun Livingston brought the ball upcourt, shook Cameron Payne, and dropped in a fadeaway, drawing a foul in the process.

"This unit for Oklahoma City is getting absolutely destroyed," ABC's Jeff Van Gundy said, forecasting the future of the rivalry. The Thunder have a superstar and bit parts, the Warriors four superstars and an array of specialists. Things are fraught now, but that gap might make lasting drama impossible, leaving just one-sided vitriol and a run of blowouts.

"Nothing is gonna seep off the floor," Durant said of his staredown with Roberson. "It's part of the game, and I respect that." Another part of the game, one that will remain when the boos have quieted down and the novelty wears off: great teams beat good ones, regardless of how everybody feels about it.