Golden State and Oklahoma City gave those of us who did not spend Wednesday evening binge drinking with old friends something to do, and it was riveting precisely because it featured old friends reviving bitter old grievances – which is possibly how your night at that hometown bar finished up, after all.
Kevin Durant v. Russell Westbrook is … yes, let’s just say it … the best rivalry we have going in sports ( LaVar Ball v. Donald Trump is rising quickly, though). Just look at this from last night (and watch the rest here).
Westbrook finished with a season-high 34 points to lead the Thunder to a shocking 108-91 win and give us something to look forward to for the rest of the year in a league that has too often recently been too easy to predict.
In a time when we realize athletes are business savvy multimillionaires who tend to pal around off the court, this feels authentic. Westbrook going at Durant is precisely what spurned Thunder fans want. Durant not backing down is what Warriors fans expect. And real passion is great for the game.
So of course here we have Durant and his mother(!?) speaking to ESPN and trying to deflect attention away from what very clearly is a real feud. First, Kevin:
“It’s not about me and Russ. It’s about the Thunder and the Warriors. Myself and Russ are competing out there. That’s part of the game. It’s basketball. It’s not about us. We’re just playing the game, and trash talking is part of it. That’s all it is.”
And here’s his mother, Wanda:
“It’s OKC.It’s the same atmosphere that they’ve always had, so we wouldn’t expect anything different. I just think it’s too hyped. It’s just basketball. Not even as a fan and being here and watching both of them, I really don’t get it. But it is what it is.”
Yes, this should settle things right down.
Or the opposite. But, I don’t know, maybe that’s actually the plan?
We know that Durant is not afraid to play to the drama – or even to create it. It’s entirely possible he’s used burner Twitter accounts to stick up for himself by slamming the Thunder and his old teammates (outside of Westbrook). And he’s been open about his own insecurities and how they drive him.
Durant was often portrayed as a misunderstood or enigmatic or aloof star early on, but I think by now we can say for sure that he is fairly simple to decipher on at least one front: he’s the type of star who feeds off of what others are saying about him. He jumped to a super team not because he didn’t mind that it would make people accuse him of being weak and unable to win on his own, but because he knew having so many people so vehemently shout those things would push him to another level.
So come February 6 – when the Thunder visit the Warriors – I’m guessing Durant will mostly stay quiet but utter one or two sentences that could be interpreted as slights prior to the game, then jaw with Westbrook the whole way, score 50 and lead Golden State to a win before swearing that none of it had anything to do with anything personal between the ex-teammate he left behind.
And so it will go for the rest of this year – the teams play two more times before the playoffs – and we should be thankful for it.
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