The stage was set for Russell Westbrook against Patrick Beverley — a showdown that had been brewing for months and more than lived up to the hype.
But the main event had quite the intriguing undercard.
And a developing rivalry between two of the Western Conference’s elite took a most dramatic turn on Tuesday night, with physical feuds aplenty in the Thunder’s needed 106-98 win over the Rockets.
It started with Beverley’s familiar timeout undercut on Westbrook, done in the exact same spot as last season’s run-in that resulted in Westbrook’s knee injury, followed by a pair of tussles between the two.
But from there, the dramatics only built and the bad blood continued to boil.
Reggie Jackson, maybe as a bit of retribution, pulled the same sideline move on James Harden a bit later. Harden took exception, with a little shove, and the two benches continued to chirp at each other.
“Talked to James a little bit after (the game),” Jackson said. “Just something that happened. … That’s what I’ll go with.”
Then later, following a made shot under the Rockets’ hoop, Steven Adams nailed Harden with a forearm under the chin. Harden went down in a flash, maybe exaggerating the contact a bit. Then he rushed to his feet and sprinted into the face of the Thunder rookie.
As this latest skirmish was going on, Scott Brooks made his way over to the fray, chirping at Harden and the officials.
“My mom wouldn’t be proud of me for what I said,” Brooks admitted postgame.
Harden was then seen yelling back at his old coach, saying, “I ain’t flopping,” before wandering over for an animated conversation with some courtside fans during the review.