Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid-Russell Westbrook rivalry is good for the NBA

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Things got chippy between Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook during Saturday afternoon’s matchup.

To say the Philadelphia 76ers and the Oklahoma City Thunder are beginning a little rivalry would be dishonest as the Thunder have prevailed in 19 consecutive contests.

Take the end results away and these matchups have all the ingredients of a rivalry.

It continued Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center when Joel Embiid committed a hard foul against Russell Westbrook.

Late in the fourth quarter, Westbrook received a pass in transition and with Embiid ready to leap and swat the ball all the way back to Oklahoma City, Westbrook attempted to go underneath.

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This resulted in Embiid landing hard on Westbrook just underneath the hoop with Westbrook momentarily lying on the floor in pain.

After getting up, Westbrook proceeded to charge in Embiid’s direction with his Thunder teammates immediately holding him back and forcing him to refrain from any altercation.

Westbrook had a few words for Embiid and then proceeded to hit both free throws.

Of course the foul was unintentional, but Westbrook is known to be a feisty player and this is how he keeps himself fired up from time to time.

After the game, Westbrook even told ESPN’s Royce Young, “I don’t think he just landed on me, there was a little extra to it.”

When asked if him and Embiid were cool, Westbrook responded with “F*** no.”

Shortly after the foul, Westbrook committed his sixth foul while defending an Embiid three-point attempt, disqualifying him for the remainder of the game.

Embiid gave him a goodbye wave as he walked towards the Oklahoma City bench, reminiscent of when he did the same thing to Thunder center Steven Adams when he fouled out in a game back in December 2017. Westbrook then waved to Embiid after time expired.

We all know the rest — Jimmy Butler stole the ball for a go-ahead layup with just seconds remaining and Thunder forward Paul George responded with a three-point shot and a free throw.

The Thunder won the game 117-115.

Embiid told reporters, “I don’t know why he was mad, but he’s always in his feelings.”

Despite the loss for the Sixers, this is great for the league.

The season is one long novel with each game being its own chapter. Then you have something like the ongoing saga between Westbrook and Embiid which is like a sub-plot.

A story within a story. And both of them seem fully committed to it.

This particular feud reached the ultimate level of pettiness last January when Embiid went to Instagram to post a picture of his ferocious dunk on Westbrook with the location “Crime Scene Investigation.”

Westbrook then dribbled out the clock while violently staring down Embiid on the bench.

The league needs some of this spice like it’s an overly-sweet alcoholic beverage. Something to add a little kick.

The NHL knows what they are doing by letting players fight. This keeps the crowd energized and excited.

Although the MLB tries to push the “unwritten rules” narrative, it is good for the league when players bat flip and get intentionally beaned in their next at-bat. The very rare charging of the mound is even better, despite what some of those old heads might tell you.

The NFL does not need anything extra as everyone on the field has a license to hit hard.

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As far as the NBA goes, this is what has been lacking. They do not need another Malice at the Palace, but they need player-on-player rivalries.

They need drama. They need beef. They need chippy attitudes.

It especially works because both Embiid and Westbrook are two of the league’s main faces.

It creates headlines. It gives more of a draw for the casual fans who otherwise might not be so invested in mid-January games.

It adds more storylines that linger over to future match ups. They will meet again February 28th at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

NBA fans across the nation, or globe, should circle that date on their calendars.

Although a long shot, if these teams were to square off in the NBA Finals then Westbrook and Embiid might rack up technical fouls and even ejections. There would be lots of bad blood and perhaps literal blood.

Although Embiid and Westbrook are not the only chippy players in the league, they are the most noteworthy. The league also has Marcus Smart, Rajon Rondo, and the entire Warriors front court now that they have added DeMarcus Cousins. That is to only name a few.

The league should fully embrace the player-on-player feuding and promote it to the fans. More people would invest into the product if they were to do so.

But that is just for entertainment purposes.

The Sixers and Thunder both have bigger goals to strive for.

Embiid and Westbrook have bigger issues on their plates.

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But once they hit the floor together, all bets are off.