We heard about how Russell Westbrook was so angry and was going to have such an angry game against Kevin Durant in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first game against the Golden State Warriors’ and the Thunder’s former MVP who abandoned them for better digs. Because angry, angry, angry Westbrook had the angriest anger in the history of anger.
Perhaps the more unheralded story was that Durant had a bit of chip on the shoulder as well.
It was a fascinating turnaround from when they were teammates. Then, Durant was the G.O.A.T. and Westbrook was just the goat. Critics griped that Westbrook’s ball-dominant ways could scare away Durant. Shiver the thought.
Then what everyone was afraid of happening happened. And since we wouldn’t be America if we relied on logical consistency, Durant immediately became the bad guy with an otherworldly volume of bovine manure getting dumped on him in a nearly daily way.
Stephen A. Smith, who has all the consistency of Chrones-ridden octogenarian on a low-fiber diet, went from screaming about how Durant was going to leave to screaming because he left. He wasn’t the only one, but due to his platform, he was probably the loudest. Durant may have temporarily responded on Twitter and thought better of it.
Mostly, he kept his frustrations to himself.
There was one mention of liking to play with guys who were selfless, and some took that as a shot at Westbrook. (Point of order: Doesn’t the fact that that is the easiest conclusion to draw lend it some merit?)
While the bulk of the talk between Durant and Westbrook was surface-level respectful, there was low-key but thinly-veiled shade thrown by one Mr. Westbrook on a particular former teammate being it in the form of cupcakes:
Oh my gosh, Russell Westbrook is such a savage pic.twitter.com/2sb3P72w2s
— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) November 4, 2016
Whoo, baby! Westbrook was angry and gonna put an Oklahoma-sized whoopin‘ on that traitor. We were ready for gametime. And they came out with a greeting worthy of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton before a debate.
But we seem to have forgotten two things about Durant during the lead-up to the Revenge of Westbrook.
First, we seem to have forgotten that he is also a human being, and maybe, just maybe, had been harboring some emotion of his own for a while.
Second, we seem to have forgotten that he is a pretty doggone good basketball player.
He reminded us on both counts.
Overall, Durant had 39 points on 77.0 percent true shooting. Westbrook had 20 points on 47.3 percent.
Factor in turnovers and both players used 27 possessions, but Durant scored nearly double the points.
As the adage goes, Durant saved his talking for the game.
And it wasn’t just what he did; it was the way he did it. He was out there doing things like this:
It wasn’t just dominating; it was eviscerating. He was showing the take-no-prisoners, tear-out-your-larynx-with-my-teeth attitude everyone was expecting to see from Westbrook.
And after the game, he made it known in no uncertain terms, “If you start something, I’ll finish it (h/t Matt Moore of CBS Sports)
Kevin Durant on the on court trash talk: "No ill will" pic.twitter.com/l6nrHNlHnV
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 4, 2016
We can appreciate what Westbrook is doing in Oklahoma City. We can even respect his loyalty in staying there. But we’re talking about basketball here, not an absolute moral decision. In our rush to condemn Durant, we might have (and by may have, I mean absolutely, imperatively did) been to harsh.
We don’t have to collectively defecate on Durant to appreciate Westbrook, though.
And while Durant’s behavior might not be as aggressive, he certainly proved he had a statement to make. And because he saved his talking for the game, he was allowed to keep talking after it, though.