I doubt anyone had Sixers-Thunder pegged to become one of the spicier NBA rivalries headed into this season, but here we are, two games into the beef, with Russell Westbrook and Joel Embiid reaching new levels of petty.
This all started about a month ago, when the Thunder beat the Sixers in Philadelphia in triple overtime. Thunder center Steven Adams fouled out in that game, and had to endure the indignity of Embiid waving goodbye to him as he left the court. Westbrook noticed, and when the final buzzer sounded, he gave Embiid a parting gift:
This was notable not only because it’s rare to see other players actually match Embiid’s on-court venom, but because it also seemed to genuinely get to Embiid. The young shit-talker is usually having too much fun to get angry, but after that game he spoke like a man who was trying to convince everyone how Not Mad he was.
Which brings us to last night, and what turned out to be a thrilling, dunk-heavy matchup. Embiid struck in the first quarter, dunking on Westbrook and then taking a looooooong look at him as he jogged back on defense:
Westbrook got some measure of revenge later in the game, giving a meaningful glance at the Sixers’ bench after a dunk of his own:
Westbrook finished the game with 37 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds. He also had the pleasure of dribbling out the clock with his team up double digits, and he spent the last few seconds of the game trying to bore a hole into Embiid’s skull with his glare:
Westbrook, who always makes a point to downplay any personal motivations behind his on-court actions, admitted to reporters that he was looking forward to last night’s game after the Sixers spent the first one talking trash. “Oklahoma City, 2-0,” he added. As for Embiid, he’s back to being himself:
These two teams don’t play again this year, and that sucks.