Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

Game 2 showed things could get spicy between OKC and Dallas.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| May 10, 2024, 8:15pm CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

May 10, 2024, 8:15pm CDT

OKLAHOMA CITY — Kyrie Irving was headed to the bench for a timeout when he suddenly spun, looked into the Paycom Center crowd and locked eyes on some fans sitting in a courtside section.

He jawed at them.

They jawed at him.

Clearly, the Mavericks superstar had heard something he didn’t like and wasn’t about to let slide. A couple of Irving’s teammates eventually came onto the court to retrieve him.

It was spicy Thursday night.

And it wasn’t just Kyrie and those courtside fans. Luka got saucy with other fans. All the fans in the arena returned fire with a “Lu-ka sucks” chant late in the game.

It was grand theater.

Sign me up for more of all of it.

Maybe this is the start of the Thunder remaking rivalries. Sure, folks in Oklahoma City will always have sports hate (or perhaps real hate) in their hearts for Patrick Beverley and Draymond Green and Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson because of what they did to the Thunder in playoffs past. But this new generation of Thunders has yet to develop such rivals.

Luka, Kyrie and the Mavs could be first.

Frankly, it’s a bit surprising the Thunder and the Mavs haven’t had more of a rivalry in the past. Before this Western Conference semifinal, the teams met thrice in the playoffs, 2011 Western Conference finals, 2012 first round and 2016 first round.

In 2011, the Mavs won en route to an NBA crown while in 2012, the Thunder triumphed and made its first (and to this point, only) NBA Finals. Even though both series were fairly lopsided, Dallas winning in five games in 2011, Oklahoma City winning in a sweep the next year, the teams were splendid, the talent high, the games competitive.

Then in 2016 came the fireworks. 

After a fairly uneventful Game 1, the first spark came moments before tipoff of Game 2. Mavs’ reserve Charlie Villanueva walked in the middle of the dance routine that had become a pregame ritual for Russell Westbrook and Cameron Payne. There were shoves. There were stank faces.

The physicality carried over to the court, and after Game 3, Rick Carlisle, then the Mavericks head coach, used a question from our very own Berry Tramel to voice his displeasure.

Berry: When you first played them, they were sort of fresh-faced sweethearts. Now, they got guys like (Steven) Adams and (Serge) Ibaka — they get pretty dirty inside.

Carlisle: What’s your name again?

Berry: Berry Tramel.

Carlisle: Berry Tramel from The Oklahoman? And you just said that … (the Thunder) are dirty and what?

On and on, the back and forth went. 

Carlisle, eventually: They’re initiators?

Berry: Initiators is a good word. Instigators.

Carlisle: This is Berry Tramel from The Oklahoman, covers the team every day that’s saying this.

As good as that was, it wasn’t close to the best press-conference drama of the series. That came after Game 5 when the Thunder closed out the Mavs, but all the talk was about comments Mark Cuban made before the game about Westbrook.

“I think he’s an All-Star but not a superstar,” the Mavs owner said.

After the game — and Westbrook’s 36 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists — he was asked about Cuban’s comments. Doing the press conference as he did in those days with KD, Russ got held up.

“He’s a idiot,” Durant interjected about Cuban. “Don’t listen to him. He’s a idiot. That’s what we’ve got to say about that. He’s a idiot. Next question.”

Add all that sizzle to Cuban being one of only two team owners to vote no to the Sonics moving from Seattle to Oklahoma City and becoming the Thunder, and you’d think these two franchises would have a fiery rivalry.

But no.

Not even the teams being within a couple hundred miles of each other has done much to stoke the flames.

That could be changing in this series.

It’s conceivable, after all, these two teams could be regular playoff opponents for quite some time. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Doncic were in the same draft class, so they’re going to be in their primes together. Ditto for their teams.

The Thunder’s championship hopes may have to go through the Mavs — and vice versa — for many years to come.

Maybe that’s what Thunder fans sensed Thursday night. Maybe that’s why they chanted at Luka and jawed with Kyrie. And maybe that’s why Luka bounced along with the chant and Kyrie waved goodbye to the fans before checking out one last time.

There’s fire on both sides.

It’s not yet a rivalry, but the ingredients are there. So is the heat. 

Let’s see if anything gets cooking.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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