Serge Ibaka took a swipe at Blake Griffin's family jewels Sunday and all kinds of things changed.
One, the ballgame. Ibaka went all Gorgeous George, only this time the refs saw the flagrant foul, imperiling a Thunder victory.
Two, this rivalry. The Clippers and Thunder weren't sitting around singing campfire songs even before the South Central assault. This was a nasty game, and a potential West semifinal series might require football pads.
And finally, gone surely is the last national remnant of America thinking of the Thunder as boy scouts. This magnificent ballteam is as villain-worthy as any in the NBA. Heat. Lakers. Celtics. Clippers. The lovable Thunder has become hateable, too.
I know, we all still like to think of the Thunder as baby Boomers. Guys just off the train, ultra-talented but ultra-innocent, walking around the big city with wallets in their front pockets, saying gee whiz and aw shucks.
Maybe that's what the Thunder was three years ago. Not today.
This Thunder team is more biker bar than church choir. This Thunder snarls and glares. Sharpens its spikes and leads with its head. This Thunder team douses its food with garlic:
* Kendrick Perkins' hockey-like enforcing; nothing cuddly about Gran Torino.
* Russell Westbrook's brooding; Westbrook has replaced LeBron as the most psychologically analyzed player in the NBA.
* Kevin Durant's 12 technical fouls, second-most in the league. The Thunder moans and complains with the best of 'em.
* And now Ibaka's tomahawk chop, hitting Griffin where it hurts, which is frowned upon by the Marquess of Queensbury or even in most alley fights. I assume it's a no-no in The Congo, too.
Ibaka is headed for a one-game suspension, almost certainly Tuesday night against the Lakers. The NBA office is open Mondays. Not even Thunder diehards can defend Ibaka's punch.
Griffin and the Clippers give as good as they get — Chris Paul himself was suspended for a 2005 ACC quarterfinal game for hitting North Carolina State star Julius Hodge where it hurts — but that's no excuse. This was a low blow. A cheap shot. A strike that Ibaka will have to work long to overcome, if he cares about his good name.
Of course, pro basketball game is a nasty game. This isn't what the good Dr. Naismith had in mind. Not by a longshot. All kinds of unspeakables are done and said in the heat of battle. Watch Nick Collison or Perk drag themselves to their locker after a game, and you know they've been doing more than running wind sprints.
It's a physical game that sometimes crosses the line. Heck, during summer break 2010, then-Thunder center Nenad Krstic — Nenad Krstic! — got arrested for throwing a chair during a Serbia-Greek game.
You win big in the NBA with talent, yes, but also with grit and guile and not a small dose of mean. Truth is, the Thunder has been on the mean side since the day two years ago when Perkins arrived.
The Thunder's popularity hasn't waned because of it. It's just a different kind of popular. And in many ways, the Thunder will remain America's Team, basketball-version.
But these angels have dirty faces now, and that's not likely to change.
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.