The possibility of animosity between ex-teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has been one of the biggest stories in the NBA season. For the most part, though, the evidence of bad blood has mostly come from the side of Westbrook and his Oklahoma City Thunder. While Durant jawed with OKC big man Enes Kanter in the first matchup between the Golden State Warriors and his old team back in early November, it’s Westbrook who has captured most of the attention for commenting on his erstwhile co-star. He’s the one who calls Durant’s claims that everything is OK “cute” and wears outfits that can be read as digs. Meanwhile, Durant says no feud exists.
Perhaps KD is just focusing all his emotions over the breakup into what he does on the court when the two teams meet. The Warriors hosted the Thunder at Oracle Arena for the second time this season on Wednesday night, and Durant dominated the course of events once again. After scoring 39 points in the first matchup between the teams, Durant one-upped himself with a season-high 40 points on just 16 field goal attempts in a 121-100 win.
His efficiency was remarkable. Durant missed only three field goals, including a halfcourt three-pointer at the end of the first quarter and a dunk in the final minutes of the second. He was 10-of-10 on contested shots, according to ESPN, and went 9-of-10 from the line. Add in 12 rebounds and three blocks, and Durant had himself a pretty remarkable performance.
Durant played with aggression, as well, even if he didn’t want to talk about it after the game. When prompted to discuss his three-pointer after a powerful Westbrook dunk in the third, Durant only parroted the question back at the reporter:
Kevin Durant won't detail some of the stuff said between him and Westbrook tonight pic.twitter.com/7fESeuf6B0
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) January 19, 2017
That response is in keeping with how Durant has approached his post-OKC career — in short, he’d prefer to focus on the present and what he can do in the Bay Area. Westbrook has been more willing to talk about the changes in their relationship. On Wednesday, his answers were particularly salty, although that might have had something to do with the course of his night.
The night started well enough for the Thunder, who came to Oakland for the fourth game of a six-game road trip that itself comes in the midst of a treacherous run of 12 of 15 contests away from home. Nevertheless, OKC managed to play Golden State tight through the first 31 minutes despite playing without concussed center Steven Adams for the second-straight game. The Thunder were clearly underdogs, but the game looked manageable for long stretches — as well as relatively devoid of drama.
That impression changed rapidly in the final seconds of the first half, when Westbrook attempted to draw a foul from Zaza Pachulia on a three-pointer. The initial bump looked normal enough, but Pachulia made secondary contact with Westbrook’s face to send the superstar to the floor:
Officials reviewed the play and handed Pachulia a flagrant-1 foul, but the impact didn’t stop with the Westbrook free throws and Enes Kanter bucket that allowed the Thunder to tie it at 56-56 right before the break. Westbrook, for one, sent strong words towards Pachulia in the locker room after game:
Westbrook on the Pachulia incident: "I'm gonna get his ass back for that one." pic.twitter.com/yJDYes2nXn
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 19, 2017
Things didn’t get much better for Westbrook in the second half. Durant’s aforementioned three-point answer to that Westbrook dunk kickstarted a 20-4 run over roughly seven minutes of the third and fourth quarters, and the result was never in any doubt from then on. Westbrook put up his now-customary triple-double with 27 points, 15 rebounds, and 13 assists, but his performance will probably be remembered more for 10 turnovers and an embarrassing travel.
Or maybe this second matchup was all just the lead-up to the one that really matters — Durant’s first visit to Oklahoma City on February 11 (they’ll play again on March 20). That will be an entire city’s chance to tell KD how they really feel about his move, and it stands to reason that Westbrook will set the tone for that experience. It probably won’t be especially pleasant.
Westbrook, asked if he and Durant are on speaking terms: "Nah."
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 19, 2017
Whether all that emotion will be enough to overcome the Warriors’ on-court advantages is another issue altogether. Durant’s first 40-point night with the club was just the highlight of a complete performance that didn’t even see Golden State play close to its peak. The Warriors look solid enough that even this excellent showing could prove a net-negative given the announcement key reserve David West will miss at least two weeks with a broken thumb.
Maybe the lesson here isn’t that Durant and the Warriors don’t care about this feud as much as Westbrook and the Thunder. Given what we’ve seen on the court so far this season, the difference could just be that the superior team has the luxury of acting as if they’re above it all.
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