The Golden State Warriors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night, 111-95. Just looking at the score, it was an easy win. In fact, every Warriors-Thunder matchup this year has been somewhere between an easy win and a blowout. In February, the Warriors took care of business, winning 130-114. In January, Warriors won 121-100. In November, they cleaned up 122-96. No win by less than 16 points, one by 26.
This isn’t a rivalry. It can’t be. When one team wins every game handily, it’s not a rivalry. Or at least, it’s not a very good one.
It’s also the most must-watch matchup in the NBA.
Getty ImagesEzra Shaw
Sports are about stories. At their heart, it’s all we care about. You can lie and say you just want to watch the best basketball played by the best teams, but it would be exactly that: A lie. There is a reason the Spurs don’t play on national television every week. Quiet greatness is fun to watch for basketball purists, and for the rest of us, we want drama. We want action. We want narrative.
The Thunder-Warriors matchup has narrative. It’s got more than enough story lines to go around for whatever kind of drama you like. Like the “lover scorned” angle? The Thunder’s former star player Kevin Durant left the team to join the Warriors this offseason, leaving the city bewildered and wondering what happened to one of its favorite sons.
Like the “renegade on a mission of vengeance” plot? Meet Russell Westbrook, the man singlehandedly trying to drag the Thunder to the playoffs through the sheer force of his will in the absence of his former teammate Durant, who is averaging a triple-double and still somehow might not get the MVP, which should only add to his rage.
Like a story about two different ways of the world coming together in conflict? You’ve got the lane-driving, elbow-smashing, bow-throwing Thunder team going head-to-head with the smooth-passing, free-shooting Warriors team (who also have some elbow-throwers of their own).
Whatever story you like, this series has it. We’ve had Durant booed mercilessly in Oklahoma City, and we watched as he took in the hate, internalized it, and started using it to his advantage. He turned into a villain in real time, or a hero depending on your perspective, and we watched it all happen. We had the unexpected moment of comedy, when Westbrook and Durant combined for an alley-oop in the All-Star Game as everyone on the West bench burst into laughter, having successfully trolled the entire NBA world. We had the flash of violence on Monday night, when Stephen Curry and Westbrook got into it during a jump ball and had to be separated by their teammates.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY SportsCary Edmondson
It’s been an amazing series, but again: A terrible rivalry. For all these moments, the Warriors keep winning by 15 or more. There is little suspense in any of these games, unless you’re counting the suspense of seeing what might happen next unrelated to balls being put in a basket. That’s why this rivalry is so terrible, and why it’s the one must-watch rivalry of the NBA season.