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The Storied History of the Rockets/Thunder Relationship

Jan 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) in the second half at Toyota Center. Houston Rockets won 118 to 116. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) in the second half at Toyota Center. Houston Rockets won 118 to 116. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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In a lot of ways, the first round series between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder is a culmination of a storied history between the teams.

Many teams have been linked together for years. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have been rivals since the days of Bill Russell, for example. The Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have a lengthy history, but lots has happened in the last five years that ties them together. Let’s start at the beginning to sum it up.

In 2012, the Thunder had something most NBA franchises dream of–a bonafide superstar in Kevin Durant, another All-Star, and a soon-to-be All-Star, none above the age of 24. That year, they reached the NBA Finals and fell short to the Miami Heat in five games. Despite the loss, it seemed like the Thunder had a very good future ahead of them.

However, the off-season approached and things took a left turn. To make a long story short, the Thunder decided not to give James Harden an additional $6 million and sent him to the Houston Rockets, choosing to keep Serge Ibaka instead. It ended up being one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The Rockets and Thunder faced off in the first playoff series after the Harden trade, and it only took two games to further link the two teams together. Patrick Beverley injured Russell Westbrook for the rest of that postseason when he went for a controversial steal. It created an animosity that didn’t exist beforehand, and those hard feelings still linger.

Later, in 2015, Houston lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Oklahoma City then got the same treatment the next season. They both have experienced the ruthlessness of the Warriors to the fullest extent. If a filmmaker wrote this it wouldn’t be believable.

Fast forward to 2017, and Russell Westbrook is the last of the big three still wearing a Thunder jersey. Kevin Durant infamously left OKC to join the team he had just lost to in the semi-finals, breaking up the trio/duo for good. He, Westbrook, and Harden are each perennial MVP candidates and future Hall of Famers. Now, the two of them who are most likely to win the award this year will see each other in playoffs this upcoming weekend.

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The Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder, two teams that have been tied to each other for the last five years, will battle it out for a chance to take on the third member of the original group. If a filmmaker wrote this story, it wouldn’t even be believable.

Unlike the 2012 version of the Thunder, both teams are ultra-dependent on their respective superstar. Russell Westbrook made triple-double history this season, beating out Oscar Robertson for the most such stat lines in a season.

In the other corner, James Harden has been incredible in his own right, directing a team of snipers like an absolute symphony. He’s created more points for his team than anyone else has in the history of the league, creating a daunting combination of volume and efficiency. His dominance isn’t as eye-catching as Russ’s at times, but his team’s superior record makes up for it.

Which team will come out victorious in the most hyped first round playoff series? Who will prevail as regular season MVP? The rich history of the Houston Rockets and OKC Thunder will get even richer in the coming weeks and months, and we’re here to watch it unfold.

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James Harden and Russell Westbrook each have had historic seasons, and their teams’ history only makes it more interesting. A good plotline combined with great basketball is a beautiful thing. Playoffs start this Saturday, and the Rockets/Thunder series will be one to watch.

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