Warriors, Kevin Durant rise above noise in first showdown with Thunder
Golden State more than amped up as former OKC star dominates first game against old team
OAKLAND — Kevin Durant from underneath the basket with a twisting finish and a quick stare down and comment for defender Jerami Grant. Kevin Durant grabbing a loose ball in the backcourt, pushing it the other way and pulling up to splash a transition 3-pointer. Another 3-pointer, after taking Stephen Curry’s left-handed behind-the-back pass. And another and another and another.
Durant was everywhere and everything Thursday night – catalyst for the offense, emotional spark even though the schedule makers supplied one the size of Oracle Arena, the man who turned Oracle into “Roaracle”, the difference as the Golden State Warriors (his new team) routed the Oklahoma City Thunder (his old team). Even the rallying point, in the most interesting and perhaps most important development that came from Golden State’s 122-96 win and Kevin Durant 1, Russell Westbrook 0.
“We have each other’s back every game, but I think there was a conversation or two about ‘Lets just get this win and get it for him,’ ” reigning MVP Stephen Curry said. “Sort of like vindication, but it’s more just you know that he has a history with a certain team for nine, 10 years. It’s hard to erase that, so you want to come out and just help him enjoy the game and enjoy that first opportunity against his old team.”
The notion that Durant hated the way the reunion was being dissected and perhaps overblown, down to the analysis of Westbrook’s wardrobe?
The idea that the Warriors were glad to get this one over and let the circus, or one of the many circuses that circulate around them, leave town?
The theory that the only thing muddier than Thursday will be Durant’s first game in Oklahoma City as a visitor, Feb. 11, and the only thing worse than that will be if the teams have an entire playoff series?
It’s the opposite.
The Warriors were super-charged in a Nov. 3 meeting, in the fifth game of the regular season, specifically wanting to deliver a victory for Durant. Imagine how amped they will be walking into OKC just before the All-Star break, and maybe for the chance to get a best-of-seven against Westbrook. Wanting to get past this night and let Durant get on with the rest of his Golden State life might be the last thing they would want.
The part about it being a Durant-Westbrook showdown, a grudge match, is more playful than anything because they wouldn’t go head-to-head at the same position, have teams at different places in the Western Conference hierarchy and have much different roles.
Durant needs to fit in a Warriors lineup with three other All-Stars. Westbrook needs to carry the Thunder, or as Golden State coach Steve Kerr said before the game: “…. I would think at the end of the year Russell will be awfully close to averaging a triple-double. It’s the way he plays. It’s how talented he is. And the fact that it’s his basketball now. It is. It’s his. He shared it with KD in the past and now it’s his team, so his numbers will improve for sure.”
The part about emotions percolating around the game, that may not have been so playful. Westbrook arrived at Oracle wearing an orange photographer’s bib over a white short-sleeve shirt, but denied it was a jab at Durant and his interest in photography. Durant trash-talked with Grant, exchanged, um, pleasantries with the OKC bench during a stop in play and in general set the example as the Warriors offered more energy and greater focus tonight than at any point during this 4-1 start and their choppy transition to a new lineup.
That Durant also happened to be the guy who took over was the most wide-angle, sharp-focus statement of all. His 39 points (while going 7-for-9 on 3-pointers) and seven rebounds in 31 minutes was nothing less than the final word in the reunion. Not that Westbrook was trying to say anything with his attire, of course.
“I don’t want to say that any part was strange,” Durant said. “I’ve moved on. I’m part of the Golden State Warriors. I’m excited to be part of this team. What I did those last eight years (with the franchise) was special and something I’m never going to forget, but I’m trying to look forward. I just try to separate those emotions and feelings and also try to do my job.”
He did allow that the emotions crept in before tipoff and that “After the game started it brought back a lot of memories, but it was back to business.” Back to being KD the lethal offensive weapon … only this time, for the first time, at the expense of the Thunder.
“I think the whole thing is just always going to be the story,” Kerr said. “It involves a superstar leaving a team and a long-term partnership with two stars. Of course it’s going to be a story. I feel for Kevin because even though he hasn’t said anything negative, it’s been portrayed that he has said a lot of bad things about Oklahoma City, about Russ. It’s not true. He has said some things that have been construed as negative. He said something about he loves his new teammates. That was somehow construed that he didn’t love his old teammates. It’s almost like he has to now qualify everything he says by making sure he doesn’t insinuate anything. That’s a tough position to be in. But it’s all part of it and Kevin understands that and I think he’s really happy he made the decision for his own reasons, not anybody else’s. I think he’s really happy here.”
The Thunder lost for the first time after a 4-0 start and prepared to return home for five games that include at least a couple different kinds of challenges – the Toronto Raptors, the LA Clippers. The Warriors head to Los Angeles for a Friday meeting with the Lakers and their coach, former Golden State assistant Luke Walton.
Another reunion. Another night of moving on. Let the wardrobe watch begin.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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