BY JOHN ROHDE
Feb, 12, 2017
Saturday night’s game between the OKC Thunder and Golden State Warriors was a mismatch and you can credit, or blame, Kevin Durant for this.
With Durant’s free-agent defection on July 4 last year, the Thunder went from being an elite team (one win shy of claiming last year’s Western Conference championship) to its current status as a lower-echelon playoff team (currently the conference’s No. 7 seed).
In three meetings this season, Golden State has dismantled OKC by 26 (122-96 at Oracle Arena on Nov. 3), by 21 (121-100 at Oracle on Jan. 18) and by 16 last night with a 130-114 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The season’s final mismatch will be March 20 in OKC.
If Durant’s intent when he left was to humiliate teammates and fans who did everything within their power to support him as a four-time scoring champ and the league’s 2013-14 Most Valuable Player, well … congrats. Mission accomplished.
Let it be known that Durant’s ex-fans and some ex-teammates let themselves be heard before going their separate ways Saturday night.
With 4:25 left in the third quarter and the Thunder having hit two straight 3-pointers to pull within 16, the Warriors called timeout and Westbrook and Durant started barking at each other near midcourt.
“I’m coming,” Westbrook shouted multiple times.
“You’re gonna lose,’ Durant answered.
Less than three minutes later, Durant drove into the lane and crashed into the basketball stanchion after being fouled by Thunder defensive ace Andre Roberson. The two exchanged words face-to-face and Durant lightly bumped Roberson’s forehead. Both were assessed technical fouls, as was Warriors forward Andre Iguodala.
Durant and Roberson insisted it was no big deal.
Durant: “Man, I love ’Dre. It was part of the game. I respect that. We should’ve just played on, I don’t think (the officials) should’ve reviewed anything. Hard fouls, (expletive)-talking, all that stuff is part of the game. That’s what makes the game fun.”
Roberson: “I was just talking to the ref, saying my side of the story. I thought it wasn’t a foul. I guess Kevin fell some type of way, falling to the ground and then got up, (and) said a couple words. My parents ain’t raise me to back down from anybody. I don’t talk smack unless I have to. Said a couple words back, and I guess he didn’t like it … I have the utmost respect for (Durant) as a person. The decision he made kinda doesn’t sit right with me, but it’s in the past. We’re moving forward.”
Thunder fans booed their hearts out until Durant finally was taken out with 1:52 left in the game and the Warriors up 22.
The Peake was loud from the jump, even in a traitor’s eyes.
“The crowd was amazing tonight,” Durant said afterward. “They were loud, as loud as I ever heard them here.”
The only time I recall it being louder was June 6, 2012, when Durant delivered a one-hand bounce pass to a wide-open Kendrick Perkins for a two-hand dunk with 24.3 seconds left in Game 6 for a six-point lead against the San Antonio Spurs that essentially clinched that year’s Western Conference Final.
The entire arena was not against Durant, though it certainly sounded like it. Some OKC fans in the sellout crowd of 18,203 respectfully cheered for Durant, but their screams were buried in a steady avalanche of deafening boos.
It is highly unlikely Saturday’s game brought closure to disgruntled Thunder fans, but perhaps in some way they might be able to finally bid good riddance to Durant and confirm, “You’re no longer one of us. We’ll gladly take Russell instead.”
In search of his 27th triple-double this season, Westbrook finished with 47 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but also committed 11 turnovers (five in the first 9½ minutes). He shot 14-for-26 from the floor (despite going 3-for-10 in the first and fourth quarters) and was 16-for-18 from the free-throw line.
After managing just four points on 2-for-8 shooting in the first quarter, Durant finished with a team-high 34 points (12-for-21 shooting) and nine rebounds.
Imagine the tension on the Western Conference team at next Sunday’s All-Star Game in New Orleans. Will Warriors coach Steve Kerr dare to play Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green alongside Westbrook, who has been MVP of the last two All-Star Games?
Is this where Durant and Westbrook finally will embrace?
Some NBA awkwardness continues for OKC. After facing an ex-teammate Saturday night, Thunder players now face their ex-coach Monday night in Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks, whose team leads the Southeast Division with a 32-21 record despite starting the season 2-8. The Wizards, who lost 126-115 in overtime at OKC on Nov. 30, have won 18 of their last 19 home games.