Everyone talking about the return of Kevin Durant probably gave Russell Westbrook some extra motivation for the first game of the season, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 112-106 win over the San Antonio Spurs, giving Billy Donovan a nice victory on his debut in the NBA while revealing the problems for the still meshing Spurs.
Westbrook scored 33 points and added 10 assists, as if it’s last season all over again. The difference is the Thunder seem to be trying to do things a little bit differently on offense. Less isolations and more sharing the ball while actually moving around, something Scott Brooks found difficult to explain, or never tried to do. It wasn’t working perfectly as the Thunder did turn the ball over 18 times and were playing a not too bad opponent, but if this is just the first game, there’s plenty to be optimistic about.
The other difference was healthy players. Durant was back scoring 22 points, although he was having a rough night with 6-of-19 from the field, trying to force things a little bit too much and suffering from a great defender getting in his face. Enes Kanter fits the off the bench role perfectly, making his defensive weaknesses less crucial. He scored 15 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in just 24 minutes, but as expected, the Thunder gave up a lot of points during his time on the floor.
Serge Ibaka wasn’t a big part of the offense with just nine shots, scoring 10 points, but the Thunder are fine with that. They have more talented players to do the scoring, and when Westbrook is this hot, it really doesn’t matter if Durant isn’t firing on all cylinders. Most of Westbrook’s assists weren’t the kind of passes that actually create the shot for the player, but it doesn’t matter. When he makes his shots, it’s hard to complain about his decision making or him taking too much shots.
The Thunder didn’t fall apart when their best players weren’t on the floor together. Durant actually finished with a 0 in the +/- column, while both Anthony Morrow and Dion Waiters did a good job in limited roles, something that’s especially difficult for someone like Waiters to accept, but maybe Donovan can keep him in check. Waiters played during the Thunder’s big run, as they came back in the fourth to outscore the Spurs by 10 points.
For San Antonio, the debut of LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t go so well, with the former Blazers player scoring just 11 points on 4-of-12 from the field. David West was a lot more efficient with 8 points in 18 minutes, but he’s not going to be the player who carries them for most minutes. Kawhi Leonard, the emerging star of this team, scored 32 points, while both Tony Parker and Tim Duncan looked like the old men that they are, although one might say that Danny Green shooting just 2-of-9 from the field was the most disappointing aspect of the performance.
This very well might be the conference finals in May. It’s already been twice in the previous four seasons, with Thunder injuries the only thing preventing it from happening more. But as good as the Thunder looked offensively it is just the start, and it’ll be interesting to see how things hold up on days when Westbrook isn’t scoring anything but is still insisting on taking more or as many shots as Kevin Durant, who’ll have better days than this.