In one of the most highly anticipated games of this early NBA season, the Oklahoma City Thunder traveled to Golden State last Thursday night to face their former star Kevin Durant.
Durant spent nine seasons with the Thunder, averaging 27.4 points per game during that span and forming one of the most lethal duos in the league with Russell Westbrook.
During those nine seasons, Durant was a seven-time all-star, a five-time All-NBA First Team performer, a four-time scoring champion, Rookie of the Year in 2008 and the NBA MVP in 2014. Durant basically grew up in Oklahoma City and it looked like he would spend his career there, especially alongside fellow star Westbrook, forming what seemed to be a brotherhood with the fiery point guard.
In an epic plot twist, on July 4, Durant decided to take his talents to the Golden State Warriors in an unexpected move, especially to the people of Oklahoma City.
Fans and many experts were clearly distraught about the move for many reasons. For one, the Thunder, formerly the Seattle Supersonics, enjoyed a renaissance with the duo of Durant and Westbrook which resulted in many playoff appearances and a Finals appearance in 2012.
What ultimately made this decision heart-wrenching for OKC fans and what made it look cowardly among many other fans and experts (including me) is the fact that he went to the team that had just beaten them in the Western Conference Finals, a series in which the Thunder were leading 3-1.
Durant caught massive criticism for his play in those final three games in the series where he seemed to be passive during the crucial final moments while Westbrook was aggressive, even though Durant was the more viable scoring option. This discrepancy in mindset and demeanor is what caused the basketball world to question if they can really co-exist and win a championship together. With the opportunity of free agency upon him, Durant clearly decided that they couldn’t.
While Durant felt that Golden State was the perfect destination for him to win, Westbrook remained in OKC by signing a 3 year/$85.5 Million contract, displaying a clear antithesis to Durant’s feelings about the Thunder. This split was made even more controversial when it was revealed that Durant had told Westbrook about his decision through a text message. All of this combined made the offseason a whirlwind for Durant with people questioning his character, toughness and pitting what was once his battery mate (Westbrook) against him, painting Durant as the villain.
Fast forward to Thursday night, the Thunder have stated 4-0 behind Westbrook averaging a triple-double and Durant’s Warriors 3-1 and still trying to find a continuity as a team.
The sports talk leading up to the game had been about whether Durant and Westbrook would acknowledge each other before the game and how each would play against each other for the first time.
Many knew that the Thunder barely had a chance to win, but the true narrative existed between the Westbrook-Durant personal matchup, with Westbrook being widely considered to continue his videogame-like play and coming out aggressive as ever and Durant trying to match that aggression.
That narrative was quickly reversed by the end of the night.
It was Durant who came out with an aggression and fire, lighting up his former team for 39 points, 29 of them coming in the first half.
He was efficient from the floor, making 15 of 24 shots attempted including going 7-11 from three point range.
Westbrook, on the other hand, looked overmatched by the overwhelming disparity in talent between the two teams. He was barely able to get off offensively as he was trying to get his teammates involved in the game and by the time he decided to take the offensive onus on his shoulders, it was too late as he began to force shots at will, never getting a rhythm.
Durant, almost single-handedly, took the heart out of the Thunder with a second quarter flurry that included consecutive three pointers made just before halftime.
His stellar play caused the Thunder to get rattled, most notably Forward Enes Kanter, who had engaged in a trash talking episode with Durant in the third quarter with the game well in hand for the Warriors. By that time, Durant had made his statement and had made the entire team and Oklahoma City fanbase nostalgic for 48 minutes of domination.
Although I don’t agree with the decision from a moral or competitive level, Durant proved that night that his move to Golden State was what was best for him individually in his quest to win a title.
Durant looks very comfortable in the Warriors’ offense and is becoming more and more assertive as the games go by which is displayed by his 30 points per game average. As this team continues to gel, it will become more apparent as to how hard it will truly be to slow them down, especially when Klay Thompson finds his rhythm from the three point line.
KD made an emphatic first step in silencing his Thunder haters and truly showed his former team exactly what they were missing.
Were you surprised at how well Durant played versus his former team? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3.