In an NBA regular season that is looking a lot like the previous one, the one game that has really stood out since the beginning of the season as something to look forward to is the Golden State Warriors facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in OKC for the first time (there’s going to be another game). It’s also Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant facing off once again, only this time in a much more hostile environment.
The interview above from Westbrook as we had into the final hours before the game shows someone a bit more open to talk about the situation between the two than before. I’m no psychologist or expert in body language, but Westbrook is still hurt. I have no doubt in my mind that Westbrook is channeling his anger and animosity towards Durant for a spectacular season statistically (30.9 points, 10.2 assists, 10.5 rebounds), on pace to be the first since the Big O to average a triple double throughout an entire season.
Durant isn’t doing too badly himself. He’s averaging 25.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, looking a lot better than before on defense, and seems happy in recent weeks to make room for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to do their thing. He’s been having his fury moments with Draymond Green, but for now it seems more like teammates having normal, heated moments between them, but nothing to worry about. Green sometimes tries a bit too hard to make his teammates get into the kind of mindset he constantly is. From the side, it looks like a fight between them, but there doesn’t seem to be any long term effect. The Warriors keep winning, with a four game advantage over the San Antonio Spurs.
The most interesting factor in this game will be the fan’s reaction, and how they affect the game. I wonder how many fans are going to be wearing anti-Durant shirts in this game. But making Durant play poorly isn’t the only thing the Thunder fans need to focus on. Durant does shoot horribly from three in Warriors losses (23.5% compared to 40.5% when they win). He also shoots a lot more from the outside when they lose, so keeping him from comfortably strolling close to the rim is key in making the game difficult for him.
No Enes Kanter (the Thunder are 3-4 without him) is another massive problem, but the key will be defense, which the Thunder do pretty well (8th in defensive rating this season). Getting physical with Stephen Curry early, keeping Durant outside the arc most of the time, and hoping Klay Thompson doesn’t erupt. There’s no way of shutting down everyone on the Warriors, but they do have bad shooting days, which is often part of the equation when they lose.
Any special moments between Durant and Westbrook expected? Probably not. Durant tried having some heartfelt moment with his previous pal, but Westbrook spurned him and shrugged him off. Maybe one day there’s going to be some connection between the two again, but for now, especially with the kind of atmosphere we’re going to have in the arena, it’s going to be difficult for Westbrook to feel anything positive for Durant. The wound is still fresh and seething. Maybe another offseason is what it’ll take.