Sunday’s 76ers-Thunder game was much anticipated among NBA fans for the promise of more high drama after the team’s first meeting, a contentious affair that Oklahoma City won in triple-overtime. Apart from ending in regulation, Round 2 did not disappoint, as Russell Westbrook and Joel Embiid traded staredowns and ramped up a burgeoning feud.
Embiid landed the first blow Sunday, almost literally, as the Sixers center victimized Westbrook on a, well, thunderous dunk. Not content with merely inflicting injury, to the rim at least, Embiid added insult by pointedly looking back at the 2017 NBA MVP as he ran back up the floor.
Later in the game, OKC’s Paul George made a valiant attempt to exact revenge on Westbrook’s behalf — “I was trying to finish that one,” he said after the game — by throwing down a titanic jam. George failed, but he earned a trip to the free throw line and, one would imagine, his teammate’s gratitude.
Late in the third quarter, the Thunder looked like they were set to pull away, but the Sixers hung tough and tied the score at 101 with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter before fading. What most definitely did not fade was Westbrook’s disdain for his antagonist, and as the seconds ticked away in OKC’s 122-112 win, he stared over at Philadelphia’s bench, where Embiid just happened to be.
Westbrook led all scorers with 37 points, and after the win, he was asked about the “high-energy” nature of the team’s two meetings. “After a little talk after Game 1, leading into this game, people were looking forward to it,” he replied, “but, you know: Oklahoma City, 2-0.”
When the teams first played this season in mid-December, Embiid had his share of feisty moments with Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, then made a show of waving goodbye to another Thunder player, Steven Adams, after the latter fouled out. Westbrook was more than happy to return the favor as the horn sounded on that OKC win, waving at Embiid with a large grin.
The two exchanged words from their respective ends of the court as players headed toward the locker rooms, and Westbrook subsequently told reporters, “I was telling him to go home.” Asked if the demonstrative Embiid “sometimes crosses the line” with his antics, Westbrook said, “I’m not about to get into a back-and-forth with him. I’m not about to give him my energy.”
Well, that was then, and on Sunday Westbrook was all about the back-and-forth, particularly after getting the last laugh. Not to be deterred, though, Embiid took to social media and expressed the idea that he and his team had suffered a “tough loss” while adding a noteworthy photo.
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