Do Steven Adams and Russell Westbrook haunt the Warriors’ dreams? If you watched Saturday’s game, the first between the two teams since Kevin Durant defected to the Warriors, without paying attention to the score, the question would seem absurd.
The boisterous crowd made Saturday’s clash feel much bigger than a normal regular-season NBA game – but it wasn’t actually competitive. It was the Thunder’s third loss to the Warriors this season, and for the third time in a row the final score was noticeably lopsided. Looking just at the numbers, there was no question that Durant’s return to Chesapeake Energy Arena, one of the most anticipated games of the year, ended up being a terrible anticlimax.
What Saturday’s game lacked in drama, however, it made up for in atmosphere. No matter how far behind the Thunder trailed, the fans never stopped taunting Durant and his new team. Draymond Green also got into it, with a fan who may have been deploying racist language.
Tempers flared on court, as well. Durant and Westbrook, his former mate, were particularly heated. At one point Durant answered Westbrook’s shouts of “I’m coming” with a dismissive: “You’re losing, though.”
In the third quarter, Durant confronted the Thunder’s Andre Roberson after the latter committed a particularly hard foul, an event that earned them both technicals. It was a chippy game all night, as pride remained on the line long after the result was decided.
Durant scored 34 points in the game, which would normally be enough to quiet down the opposing team’s crowd, but that wasn’t quite possible this time. No matter how far behind the home team were, the fans in Oklahoma simply refused to let him off the hook.
For many, the gap in quality between the two teams remains far too wide for a genuine rivalry to emerge. Westbrook might share that belief. When asked if he thought the two teams were rivals, Westbrook said no, but he didn’t offer anything more than: “Because I don’t.”
Last season was different. There’s no question that the Thunder had a rivalry with the Warriors, something which became especially obvious when they pushed the Warriors to seven games in their epic Western Conference finals, nearly coming up with the all-time upset that the Cleveland Cavaliers eventually pulled off.
Things are very different this season – for a very obvious reason. Losing one of the best players in the league to the Warriors, the team that had just eliminated them the previous postseason, was the kind of devastating blow that very few teams have ever experienced.
With one transaction, the Thunder went from one of the top teams in the West to one that was going to have to fight for one of the lower playoff seeds. Last year, there was a gap between these two teams. Now it’s an abyss.
And yet, the question persists: do two teams need to be in the same weight class to have a rivalry? Saturday’s game provides a strong argument that it’s not necessarily the case. Which brings us to the cupcakes.
See, back in July, after Durant left, Westbrook posted on Instagram a seemingly harmless picture of a cupcake stand. It wasn’t until a little later, that its true meaning came to light: the cakes represented a subtle swing at Durant for being “soft” – and taking the easiest path to a ring by joining the best team in the NBA.
So, for Durant’s return, Thunder fans took the cupcake theme and ran with it: cupcake signs, cupcake chants, cupcake shirt, even people dressed up in cupcake costumes. All of this was incredibly corny: there was an unmistakable mom-just-discovered-Facebook-memes vibe to the whole affair. But what made it so amusing was the punchline. When the Warriors talked to the media after their win, they did so while wearing the same cupcake shirts that the Thunder fans wore during the game.
That fans would needle the opposing team isn’t necessarily a sign of true rivalry, but it’s telling that the team should take the time to troll them back. Would they have responded in such a way to the Utah Jazz or Portland Trail Blazers?
Saturday’s game was the perfect example of how rivalries aren’t fully dependent on how competitive the teams happen to be. It was a game where fans treated a regular season double-digit loss like it was a tied game in the playoffs. The stakes were high on Saturday – and they’ll likely remain high for as long as Durant remains with the Warriors. Source: theguardian