Warriors Romp over OKC Drives Wedge Between Durant, Westbrook Even Deeper

Kevin DingNBA Senior WriterNovember 4, 2016

November 3, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) shoots a technical foul shot as Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) looks on during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

OAKLAND, Calif. — Of all the possible outcomes to emerge from the first reunion of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on a basketball court, this was the worst result.

Even if it was the most likely.

The demolition of the squad Durant left behind at the hands of the new superteam he helped create—as Westbrook regressed into an overly emotional, wounded lightweight throwing wild, implausible haymakers at the heavyweight Golden State Warriors—pulled Durant and Westbrook further from the connection they had for the eight years they shared with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And that's a shame.

They were friends—they really were—and they accomplished so much side by side. They weren't besties. But they were really good.

We lavish praise on stars who get past ego in order to win together, but what's far more remarkable is stars unable to make it to the top who still hold their peace.

Durant and Westbrook managed that.

Without a championship parade, however, no one ever stopped to celebrate it.

Westbrook led his leftover team to a 4-0 start before suffering this reality-defining 122-96 rout Thursday night. Durant made his great new teammates look like role players with 29 first-half points, and his 39 for the game tied for the most anyone has ever scored in his first game against his former team, per the Elias Sports Bureau (via Warriors PR).

So frustrated was Westbrook that he pointed out a fan behind the OKC bench at the end of the third quarter for yapping at him, directing Oracle Arena security toward the offender.

It was a curious decision considering how Westbrook was nodding and preening to Warriors fans earlier in the game right after OKC's Jerami Grant dunked on Durant.

Nov 2, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after a shot against the Los Angeles Clippers during the fourth quarter at Staples Center. The Oklahoma City Thunder won 85-83. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TO
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Then it all went bad for him and the Thunder.

That's where Durant's departure has pushed Westbrook: exercising whatever power he has left, wherever he can, because Durant has so much the upper hand.

After the game, Westbrook made a similarly hypocritical complaint when asked about Durant's confronting Enes Kanter on OKC's bench during the game. "The Warriors do a lot of trash-talking," Westbrook said. "Apparently, I guess they talk a lot of trash now. But we'll see how that goes."

It was less than a week ago when Westbrook blatantly howled at the Phoenix Suns bench to revel in the Thunder's overtime victory, an especially offensive move considering Westbrook goes back a long way with Suns head coach Earl Watson. Suffice it to say Watson didn't appreciate Westbrook's jawing.

This is not out of character for Westbrook, of course. Holding on to a feeling that he was disrespected or scowling as if he's up against the world is very much a Westbrook trait, which is why no one should be surprised to see this guy seize the opportunity to put another chip on his shoulder.

He is human, same as Durant, and such a stressful, spotlighted situation as their breakup naturally will magnify character flaws—or make things look like flaws when they're just characteristics.

But those characteristics are part of his strength too. Westbrook is determined to fuel his passion by any means necessary, and Durant's departure offers a rich resource to feed Westbrook's power.

Durant, meanwhile, cares much more than Westbrook about what people think of him—and appears more interested in everyone's making peace. Given the win-win situation Durant has placed himself in, that's only natural too.

Everywhere you looked Thursday outside of Oracle, Nike bought up ad space to push Durant's image with the slogan "Make History, Not Apologies."

But Durant has no reason to be in anyone's face about where he stands: He has put himself in a splendid situation with a great chance at the title he wants. Some say he took the easy way out and revealed a character flaw. But is it a flaw or just part of his true character?

He chose to go someplace he could feel more comfortable, and he chose correctly in that sense. Everywhere Thursday night, his new Warriors teammates tried to bring the best out of their new superstar.

They set up the first play of the game for Durant to score. When Durant caught fire, Stephen Curry on one play gave him the ball and tried to screen two guys for him—and then dove in vain to save the ball back to Durant after Durant mishandled it. Draymond Green got a technical foul for yelling not about something he did but because he so loved Durant's block of Westbrook's shot.

"I think he's really happy here," Steve Kerr said.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

That new reality, though, brings a new dynamic to a relationship now frayed.

Durant exercised his power to get what he wanted. Westbrook is withholding his friendship as what scant power he has left—hoping to stay in Durant's head.

It is where they are now. If anything, the differences we are seeing between Durant and Westbrook should make us even more impressed they kept it copacetic through eight years of a lot of ups but all downs at seasons' ends—with but a single NBA Finals appearance.

The closest we had to celebrating the two of them together in Oklahoma City was Durant's 2014 NBA MVP award ceremony.

"I could speak all night about Russell, an emotional guy who will run through a wall for me," Durant said then. "I don't take it for granted. There are days when I just want to tackle you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes, but I know there are days you want to do the same thing with me. I love you, man. I love you."

The foolishness of the memes that featured Westbrook's eyes on the MVP trophy that day had far more staying power than the glowing, grateful words Durant offered about Westbrook.

It's likely no one remembers, or perhaps no one cared, how hard Durant worked at the All-Star Game in Toronto last year to set Westbrook up to win the MVP trophy.

Durant has the upper hand now. But he had the upper hand most of the time they were together—and he did well to make space for Westbrook's needs and accept all the injury-fueled disappointments.

Westbrook also did well to keep his head from exploding from not getting everything his way.

But without that need to find common ground, Westbrook appeared to let his emotions take hold early in the game Thursday. He saw Durant score and then raced back in a rush to post up and answer. Westbrook was reckless (shooting 4-of-15 with six turnovers), so much so that his teammates were unsure how to play off him. His early aggressiveness instilled doubt as opposed to confidence in them.

November 3, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) dribbles between Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) and guard Stephen Curry (30) during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Like any broken relationship, it takes time to find one's footing again. Within a few minutes of pointing out that heckling Warriors fan, Westbrook had calmed Thursday night. After barking and lecturing his teammates, and even hijacking huddles from head coach Billy Donovan, Westbrook was back to being the steadier leader Donovan said has been supporting and putting arms around guys who are "looking for some direction."

"A lot of things people don't get to see," Donovan added.

Indeed, even though he had to sit there on the end of the bench when Durant was feted midway through the fourth quarter by his new fans, as the folks sitting literally next to Westbrook joined the standing ovation before an impromptu "K.D.!" chant, it was OK. Westbrook engaged those fans in conversation moments later.

Soon enough, he was sharing smiles while joking around first with assistant coach Maurice Cheeks and then athletic trainer Joe Sharpe.

Westbrook is a real person with real feelings, same as Durant.

Just as the competitiveness between them right now is real, so their friendship was before.

                  

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.