After months of hype and lead up, the Golden State Warriors defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 122-96 Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
From overt, to subtle, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been taking verbal jabs at each other since Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City in July. Westbrook continued to fuel the petty fire in his rivalry with Durant via his pregame outfit choice. Usually known for designer clothes and outlandish pattern combinations, Westbrook took to the tunnel of Oracle Arena in a bright orange vest that read “Official Photographer.” While Westbrook alleged that there was no story behind his vest, only wearing it as a fashion statement, all signs point to this being another way for Westbrook to poke fun at Durant. Durant has listed photography as a hobby of his and even photographed the Super Bowl for the Players Tribune per Yahoo Sports. Westbrook also managed to make fun of Stephen Curry before the game by mocking his pregame routine.
The pregame hype about Westbrook and Durant spilled onto the floor in the first quarter which featured runs by both teams and a 32-31 lead for Golden State.
The differences between Golden State and Oklahoma City became blatantly obvious with the Warriors outscoring the Thunder by 26 points in the second quarter, a lead that was sustained throughout the game with stifling defense and a barrage of deep threes.
Durant was able to thrive in Thursday’s game, getting open shots and attacking open lanes created by the spacing that comes from being on the court with Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Quick, unselfish passes and player movement by Golden State consistently lead to open shots for exceptional shooters, in tonight’s case many of those shots went to Durant. Durant tied his career high with seven three-pointers and 39 points. Curry added 21 points and 7 assists, while Thompson chipped in 18 points and four three-pointers.
Oklahoma City in contrast sufferers from a severe lack of shooting and playmaking. With very few scoring threats around him, defenses can collapse on Westbrook and clog driving lanes. With almost no room to operate, Westbrook was effectively stifled by the Warriors defense. Unlike Durant, Westbrook does not have the luxury of allowing his teammates to take over the game, for better or worse Westbrook must facilitate any and all offense for Oklahoma City, creating a massive physical and mental toll.
Coming into the game as the NBA’s leading scorer, Westbrook had six turnovers and scored only 20 points on four of 15 shooting.
In a character study, the common perception of both Durant and Westbrook indicate that they are both comfortable in their current roles. Westbrook has always appeared as an ultra-competitive alpha dog, a leader who wants the ball in his hands. While Westbrook may be the only real scoring threat on his team, one can assume that the alpha dog in him enjoys the challenge of leading a team that starts and ends with him, even if it comes at the expense of ball movement and open shots.
Durant, always a more quiet character than Westbrook, has faded in and out of the role of leader. Never appearing truly comfortable as the dominant voice on a team, Durant can now fade in and out as a leader as frequently as he wants with Curry, Thompson, and Green always capable of filling an alpha dog role. In Golden State, Durant is also now free to play unselfish basketball on a Warriors offense that features ball and player movement, whereas Oklahoma City consistently showcased one-on-one play from both Westbrook and Durant in their eight years together.
Other than blocking each others shots on one occasion, the interaction between Westbrook and Durant was minimal, the former duo opted not to slap hands before the game. Much of the trash talking Thursday night came from supporting players. Enes Kanter, an unlikely candidate for an altercation argued from the bench with Durant during a lengthy barking match at the end of the second quarter.
Golden State and Oklahoma City meet again at Oracle Arena on January 18.
[Featured Image by Ben Margot/AP Images]