It was all good just a year ago. James Harden was still on the dream team, partnering with the dynamic duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. But when Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti decided to cut ties with Harden, be it for cap reasons or for fear that the three would never properly mesh, the dynamics changed.
To start with, it created another strong, young team in the same division; both hungry for legitimacy and respect. More than that, the perception that Harden was cast away from the Thunder – even if it's, you know, just business – brings an extra edge to these games. The Rockets aren't just out to prove they belong on the same court, they're playing to support their boy, Harden. The ultimate goal is beating the Thunder, but the secondary goal is changing the perception of the trade.
The extra incentive is evident on the court. Tonight, Kendrick Perkins dished out a cheap shot on Chandler Parsons, allowing Thabo Sefolosha to get an open look at a three that just about put the Rockets out of reach; Greg Smith dunked on Serge Ibaka and was whistled for taunting; Ibaka dunked on Omar Asik and vice versa; and Patrick Beverley was all over Russell Westbrook, clearly rubbing the NBA's second (or third)-most irritable point guard the wrong way (s/o Rajon Rondo/Chris Paul).
Ultimately, it won't become a full-fledged rivalry until the Rockets can beat OKC, even if the seeds have been planted. Harden scored 36 points – grabbed 11 boards and dished out six assists – Houston went on a 21-4 run in the fourth quarter and still lost.
Those games went down in Oklahoma. Things may change in Texas. For now, Oklahoma City has a two-game lead in the series and everything is going according to plan. But we might be a few more posters, cheap shots and dirty fouls away from something far more memorable and long-lasting. Something that has become increasingly rare in NBA since everyone became friends.
Perkins knocked Parsons down hard when Parsons was running out to challenge that Sefolosha 3 - amazing no-call. Ref was right there.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) April 25, 2013
Funny thing is, Perk wasn’t even trying to hide holding Parsons. KG at least makes it look like incidental contact.— netw3rk (@netw3rk) April 25, 2013
Wow that was a dirty pay by Perkins there. I blame his Boston days. Smart, but risky play that payed off for OKC.— Chris Manning (@LD2k) April 25, 2013
Whoa! Greg Smith dunked on Ibaka, then got T'd up for mean-mugging him. Probably worth it, though. #AmexNBA— Lang Whitaker (@langwhitaker) April 25, 2013
GREG SMITH SMASH. (and taunting technical)— SBNation NBA (@SBNationNBA) April 25, 2013
Greg Smith just Deebo'd Ibaka.— Still Chill Withers (@CJStarchild) April 25, 2013
Patrick Beverley: 21 mins, 9 pts, 6 rebs, 5 assts, lots of aggravating Wesbrook. Great move by Kevin McHale.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 25, 2013
The competition between Westbrook and Beverly is strong tonight!— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 25, 2013
Russell Westbrook is real mad. bit.ly/ZPA4nf— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) April 25, 2013
Beverley is on Westbrook's list now. Just went for a steal and accidentally knocked him down, offered a "my bad" hand, Russ slapped it away.— Royce Young (@dailythunder) April 25, 2013
Whoa! Asik with a huge dunk in Ibaka's face! OKC's lead is 5. #AmexNBA— Lang Whitaker (@langwhitaker) April 25, 2013
Asik's revenge on Ibaka... #PosterizeOrDieTrying— reservoirgod (@MIA_Heat_Index) April 25, 2013