OKLAHOMA CITY — The season series between the Sixers and Thunder isn’t really over, is it?
These teams could play each other 20 more times and each game would be one to watch.
What started in Philadelphia on Dec. 15 as a triple-overtime thriller carried over to Oklahoma City Sunday night as a high-intensity battle that resulted in a 122-112 win for the Thunder on their home court (see observations).
While the Sixers and Thunder will not face off again until next season, these two contests were just a glimpse into what already has the making of a must-see matchup.
“After a little talk after game one, leading into this game, kind of was looking forward to it,” Russell Westbrook (37 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds) said. “But, you know, Oklahoma City, 2-0.”
Their first meeting of the season at the Wells Fargo Center wrapped up with a preview of what was to come Sunday night. During the Thunder’s 119-117 victory, Joel Embiid waved goodbye when Steven Adams fouled out. That didn’t set well with Westbrook, who sent his own message to Embiid after the buzzer.
“He told me to go home,” Embiid said that night. “And this is my home and I ain’t going nowhere.”
When the Sixers traveled to the Thunder’s home, the Thunder put their mark on the game with a second-half push and improved to 19-7 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. They extended their current winning streak to eight games and recorded their 18th straight win over the Sixers dating back to 2008.
“You come into this building and you know with the roster that they have that you are going to be in for a fist fight,” Brett Brown said. “They are a big team. They are a physical team. You roll out three gold medalists and All-Stars and you sort of have Steven Adams at the center of it all, you know you are in for a long night.”
It was clear from the start both teams hadn’t forgotten their first battle. There were hard fouls, players hitting the floor and aggressive drives to the basket. The Sixers’ and Thunder’s combined 106 points in the paint was reflective of the jam-heavy ballgame. Ben Simmons, Adams and Westbrook rank in the league’s top 10 in points in that area.
“They are so many athletes,” Embiid (27 points, 10 rebounds) said. “There was a lot of dunks. It’s just a show. It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to be in. But I wish we would have had the win, but these games are fun.”
Entertaining with a strong undertone of fast-paced intensity. The similar styles of play fueled this up-and-down contest. Paul George (31 points) considers the Sixers and Thunder’s styles to “mirror” one another.
Then there’s the shared desire to win.
“I thought the atmosphere in Philly was a great atmosphere to be a part of and go on the road and play that game. That was our first time enjoying ‘The Process,’” Carmelo Anthony (16 points) said. “Tonight was just, we knew it would be a fun, physical game. Those guys, they just play hard for the full 48 minutes regardless of what’s going on out there. I think Coach (Brett) Brown does a great job keeping those guys engaged throughout the course of the game.”
The teams could look different next season, with no guarantees of trades and moves in free agency, especially Paul George. But both Embiid and Westbrook are locked in for long-term deals, creating the foundation for an Eastern-Western Conference showdown that isn’t going away anytime soon.