Tramel: Thunder-Warriors rivalry now a shell of its former self
The uniforms were familiar. The Thunder’s sunset orange, the Warriors’ Bay Bridge blue.
The coaches, too; Steve Kerr and Billy Donovan matched wits in that memorable Western Conference Final 3 1/2 years ago that seems like 30 1/2.
Steph Curry. Steven Adams. Draymond Green. All played in that series that changed the NBA.
But nothing else seemed remotely the same Sunday, when the Thunder routed Golden State 120-92. Not the crowd. Not the anticipation. Not the broadcasters. Not the stakes. Not the level of play.
The Thunder-Warrior rivalry, only exacerbated by Kevin Durant’s defection to Golden State, is gone. No Durant; he’s off to Brooklyn. No Russell Westbrook, off to Houston. No Paul George, off to Los Angeles. No Klay Thompson, stuck on the injured list.
Sometimes we forget that it’s not just the Thunder undergoing a metamorphosis. Golden State is, too.
Instead of a superstar starting lineup buoyed by a bench with the likes of Shaun Livingston and David West, the Warriors tried to beat the Thunder by starting Marquese Chriss and Glenn Robinson III, while playing Omari Spellman, Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall at least 20 minutes each.
“It sucks,” Green said of Golden State’s new reality. “But I guess just about everybody except Tim Duncan has been through it. But it sucks pretty bad.”
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We know the feeling. This new-look Thunder team played well in defeat at Utah on Wednesday and was awful in defeat against Washington on Friday. And Chris Paul didn’t like it. Not one bit.
The Thunder’s new point guard was angry, mostly at himself, over the despondent loss to the Wizards.
“That was crazy,” Paul said Friday night after losing to Washington. “I take full responsibility for that one; that was bad. We’re going to get better; I promise you that.”
Promise delivered. The Thunder whipped the outmanned Warriors. Oklahoma City’s lack of depth seems worrisome. Golden State’s lack of depth is a five-alarm fire.
These Warriors are so strikingly different from previous Golden State juggernauts, Paul couldn’t take much pride in the victory. He was just glad the Thunder hadn’t gone flat and splat like it did against the Wizards.
“We’ve got to have our identity,” Paul said. “How we’re going to play, defensively and offensively, pushing the pace, moving the ball and playing with the right spirit. It’s a good win for us, it’s always nice to win a game, but I think it’s more about us and not about them.”
Identity. That’s what was missing Friday night. Who and what is this team? You couldn’t tell against Washington. But Sunday, the Thunder indeed moved the ball (20 assists and a 105-68 lead through three quarters), shot well (55.7 percent from the field; 15-of-32 on 3-pointers) and hounded Curry into a 7-of-18 shooting game.
It was a good first win and a confidence-booster for a team headed to Houston for a Paul/Westbrook/James Harden morality play Monday night. Another game that will remind us how much things have changed in the NBA.
The Chesapeake Energy Arena fans loved the rout of the Warriors, but still, the place didn’t roar like days of old. Some of that is because the crowd knows how things have changed, and because Westbrook is gone.
“It's different,” Green said. “The energy in the building was different. Russ brought an energy to this building that kind of everyone fed off of, the entire crowd fed off of. That was different tonight. They didn’t have the same energy they had with Russ. And they played great. It’s not that they didn’t play good. You know, Russ, he gives people energy. This building has been that for the last 10 years.”
And now Westbrook is gone, and Paul, for however long he’ll be in Thunder blue (or sunset), is charged with keeping the Thunder on point for an identity and building the atmosphere in a building that has seen Thunder-Warriors bloodsport at its best. Paul delivered Sunday, and he seems to have as good a shot at delivering as does Green and Curry with Golden State.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.