Yeah, so, about all that “just a regular game” stuff:
Sure, Kevin Durant got the relevant firsts over with last season. Even so, everyone in the universe knew that Wednesday’s nationally televised matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team for whom Durant starred for eight seasons before leaving in free agency in the summer of 2016, Golden State Warriors, the team he joined to win a championship last year, wasn’t going to be “just a regular game.” [restrict]
The Warriors entered rolling atop the Western Conference. The Thunder are still working out the kinks in the dynamic between reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook and new All-Star teammates Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. There’s still all sorts of unresolved weirdness still left burbling, from the content of those burner-account mesages to KD careening from “F*** all of them” for giving away his number to “If I was on my death bed, I guarantee you Sam Presti and Russell Westbrook would come check on me” in an interview.
There’s still a lot of tension and emotion jam-packed into the Durant-Westbrook and Durant-Oklahoma relationships. Some of it spilled out onto the court of Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday night. Durant and the Warriors slipped, fell and got very, very messy. Westbrook and the Thunder were ready to clean it up, dominating the defending NBA champions in a 108-91 pasting that hinted at the heights this rebooted Thunder roster might be able to reach.
The former teammates engaged in some serious jaw-jacking and trash talk on Wednesday, even going head-to-head — like, literally — after one third-quarter play that saw Westbrook strip Durant’s dribble:
It was all about “competing,” Westbrook told ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth on the court after the game. “You know, I’m going to go out and compete every night, and I was just letting him know that.”
(Y’know, because Kevin Durant needs reminding about how amped Russell Westbrook gets.)
Durant tried to smile, clap and chirp his way through the static, seeming for all the world like a 7-foot physical manifestation of every person online who swears He’s Not Mad, But Is Actually Laughing At How Mad You Are, To Be Honest. As he did that, and as he and his teammates sort of meander-sauntered their way through the motions, Westbrook did what he’s rarely done in the early going this year and what he did best last year: kill everything.
Westbrook opened the game shot out of a cannon, setting up Steven Adams for a floater on the game’s opening play and knocking down his first pull-up jumper on OKC’s next trip. He never slowed down, exploding to the front of the rim en route to 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists before halftime, and playing with an irresistible force that knocked the Warriors back on their heels and kept them there.
With George and Anthony knocking down their jumpers, and George and Andre Roberson putting the clamps on Golden State’s perimeter talent, the Thunder poured it on in the second quarter, heading into intermission with a 65-48 lead. All season long, the Warriors have crushed opponents coming out of halftime, entering Wednesday outscoring their opponents by nearly seven points per third quarter. Oklahoma City, on the other hand, has struggled to hold onto big leads, blowing double-digit advantages in six of their nine losses.
Westbrook scored 13 points, snagged three steals and dished two dimes in the third, propelling the Thunder forward as they pushed the lead to 26 in the quarter’s final minute.
On a lot of nights, the Warriors — a team with more firepower than any other, capable of erasing massive deficits in no time flat — might be capable of rising out of that kind of hole. This wasn’t one of them. Oklahoma City’s length, athleticism and ball pressure gave the Warriors fits all night, forcing Golden State into 22 turnovers that led to 34 Thunder points.
“Their defensive effort was great,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “I thought they completely outplayed us, outcoached us. It was just their night. It was absolutely their night. They brought the energy, they brought the juice, they brought the intelligence. We didn’t bring any of that.” [/restrict]