Having beaten the Clippers into relative harmlessness, the Warriors have moved on to a new antagonist. It’s abundantly clear that team is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The animosity generated during the 2016 Western Conference Finals was cranked up to outright bitterness when Kevin Durant left OKC last July to join the Warriors. Eight months later, the blood of competitive warfare runs rampant through the veins of both rosters.
The latest came Monday night, late in the second quarter of a 111-95 Warriors victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
While the players were positioning for a jump ball between Warriors forward Andre Iguodala and Thunder forward Taj Gibson, Stephen Curry’s attempt to step in front of OKC guard Semaj Christon was met with a push from Christon. Curry pushed back, after which Thunder guard Russell Westbrook stepped in front of Christon and gave Curry a shove.
“I was just trying to get in between Russ and (Christon),” Curry told reporters in Oklahoma City. “And I felt him push me. I kind of let that first one go, then as I kept going there was another little push. And at that point, I just wanted to hold my position.”
Westbrook, naturally, saw things differently.
“Curry tried to get into it with Semaj, tried to push him,” he said. “And I stepped right between, and that’s it. Once I see something going down with my teammates, I’m hopping in.”
As words were exchanged, Curry confronted Westbrook and within seconds, a scrum had formed near the OKC bench. There were no punches, but Draymond Green went after Westbrook and Christon in an effort to shoo them away.
With Gibson standing in the middle of it all, playing peacemaker with his arms around Curry, coaches and security personnel from both teams stepped onto the court to separate the players.
Order was restored, in part because Zaza Pachulia whisked Curry away from the crowd while referee Eric Lewis turned away Westbrook.
Double technical fouls were assessed, first to Curry and Christon and then to Green and Westbrook.
“Nothing surprises me at this point, when it comes to anything like that,” Green said of being hit with the technical foul. “I actually knew it was going to happen. I didn’t do any thing. But I knew it. If I’m anywhere in the area, it’s expected.”
Play resumed with the jump ball with 5.3 seconds left in the half. As the ball was tapped toward the Thunder bench, it was gathered by Klay Thompson, who flung it to Curry, who grabbed it and, without dribbling, launched and drained a 30-footer as the buzzer sounded.
To punctuate the theatrics, Curry broke into a full sprint toward the locker room the instant the ball went through the net to give the Warriors a 59-39 lead at the half.
“That was dope,” Green said. “A heads-up play by Klay, to get the pass out to Steph, and a great shot.”
There were other moments when things turned testy, suggesting that these teams are competing beyond the game.
They are. It’s about last May, when OKC took a 3-1 series lead and the Warriors came back to win in seven. It’s about last July, when Durant made his seismic move. It’s about Pachulia’s iron screen on Westbrook earlier this season that prompted the OKC guard vow revenge.
It’s also about the natural rivalry between point guards Curry and Westbrook, something Westbrook inflamed as recently as last week. That’s not going away any time soon.
Neither is the Warriors-Thunder beef, which very easily to live as long as Durant is wearing either jersey.