Something interesting might be happening in the Rocket vs. Thunder playoff series. These two teams are starting to hate each other and a rivalry is being born. Hard fouls, stare downs, and a couple of technical fouls are helping fuel the hate. A good rivalry needs to have three things to survive: 1) history, 2) bad blood, and 3) two competitive teams.
Looking at the history is rather easy, mostly because there is none. The Thunder have not been in Oklahoma very long and the Rockets have been a bad team for a long time. The beautiful thing about this potential rivalry is that it would not be possible if it were not for the Thunder trading a young “superstar” to the Rockets late in the offseason. The trade will be criticized for years to come if the Rockets can build on this season’s success and become a legitimate contender in the West.
The bad blood is something that one can only get from playoff basketball. Patrick Beverly single handedly elevated the intensity of Game 2 by going after the heart and soul of the Thunder in Westbrook. Beverly will pester you to death and will not back down from any player. Westbrook is a hot head who will take this “pestering” personally and will drive to the rim in anger. Patrick knocks Westbook down; Westbrook slaps his hand away in anger. And we all love it! The best part is that the crowd and the other players can feel the passion of both these players and feed off of it. The only people that could rob us all of a great series are the officials, who have already T’d up Greg Smith for staring down an opponent. Please, please refs, stay out of the way.
The hardest part of developing a rivalry is having both teams believe the rivalry is real. A good example of this is the Bulls and Heat. The Bulls consider the Heat a rival; but since the Bulls have never beaten the Heat in a meaningful game, the Heat really don’t consider them a rival. Houston will not beat the Thunder this year; that much is clear. But a rivalry could develop if they can extend this series, improve over the summer through free agency, and meet in the playoffs next year for the rematch.
The Thunder are what the Rockets want to be, a repeat contender year after year. The Rockets lost Game 2 by three points, but they showed heart and proved that they can play with the Thunder. Now, Houston must find a way to win game 3 and make this a series that can start something special.
Ruben Parga @RFParga82