Durant – Westbrook rivalry takes new dimension after Warriors Thunder clash

Jesse Kass

For eight seasons, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook wreaked havoc on the rest of the league as a devastating one-two punch. The duo ultimately fell short of their goal of an NBA championship, leading to Kevin Durant leaving Westbrook and the Thunder to join the juggernaut Golden State Warriors this past offseason. Thursday night marked the first time Westbrook and Durant went head to head since Durant’s stunning decision. 

Before the game Russell Westbrook sported an “official photographer” vest, which many viewed as a not so subtle shot at Durant, who loves photography.

Oklahoma City came out of the gates with a spirited effort, jumping out to a 10 point lead in the first quarter. Durant, however, would show the Thunder what they will certainly be missing this season, lighting it up from the three point line, pouring in 39 points on 15 of 24 from the field, leading the Warriors to a 122-96 blowout win. Westbrook finished with 20 points and 10 assists but shot just 4 for 15 from the field and committed 6 turnovers in defeat.

While the final result was decided by halftime there were entertaining moments in the first. A highlight came when both Westbrook and Durant traded monster block on the other during the first half.

Unsurprisingly, both Durant and Westbrook have excelled in the early going of the 2016-17 season. Leading up to Thursday night’s game Durant had been averaging 28.5 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists on 57.4 percent shooting for the Warriors, while Westbrook had been averaging a triple-double, scoring an astronomical 37.8 points, along with 10.5 rebounds, and 10 assists per game for the surprisingly Thunder, who were 4-0 before the loss to Golden State.

While Durant’s return game to Oklahoma City on February 11th will certainly carry more buzz, the first matchup between the Warriors and Thunder in Oakland had plenty of story lines. Durant and Westbrook played eight season together. The duo reached the NBA Finals once, and the Conference Finals four times, including this past season where they blew a 3-1 lead to Durant’s new team, the Golden State Warriors.

Durant’s decision stung Westbrook and Oklahoma City for many reasons. Outside of the obvious loss of a tremendous player, Durant’s move to a rival who the Thunder nearly beat in the playoffs makes the move hurt all the more. Along with that, Russell Westbrook had to find out about Durant’s departure just like the rest of us, through his article in the Player’s Tribune. At the start of training camp, Russell Westbrook said he still had not talked to Durant:

Both players have tried to downplay the significance of the first meeting against each other, but even if the game had no extra meaning for either of them, it certainly did for the fans, particularly those in Oklahoma City, who were ultimately let down with the dominant Golden State outing. Westbrook has stated that he plays every game as if it were his last, no matter the opponent, which his aggressive style and incredible numbers would support.

While Russell Westbrook has told reporters he will no longer answer any questions regarding his former teammate, Durant has been unable to stop talking about Westbrook. Durant recently told the San Jose Mercury News that he and Westbrook “were” and “are brothers” and that he still supports and roots for Westbrook and the Thunder. Durant, however, didn’t speak as highly of their personal relationship in a recent profile for Rolling Stone:

As close as people presumed he and Westbrook had been, they were never much more than work friends, he says. ‘We had our own cliques that we hung with on the road. Russell had his guys, I had mine. It was never a bad thing. Just how it was.’

Kevin Durant, Rolling Stone

The two certainly didn’t look like brothers on Thursday, with Westbrook’s aforementioned fashion statement shot and the fact that Westbrook and Durant did not talk or shake hands prior to tip-off. Durant stayed away from his other former teammates prior to the game as well.

The only real talk between Durant and his teammates came when Thunder 6th man Enes Kanter and Durant began jawing and trash talking in the 2nd quarter. The two went back and forth, even as Durant continued to torch the Thunder on the court. Thunder center Steven Adams eventually tapped Kanter to tell him to give it a rest with the team trailing by 23.

On paper, the Warriors certainly have the stronger team, and playing at home, while also catching the Thunder on the tail end of a tough back to back, rendering the end result unsurprising. As mentioned previously, emotions will be even higher in February, when Durant makes his return to Oklahoma City. For now Durant and his superteam teammates hold the 1-0 edge on Westbrook and the Thunder.

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