NBA - The fallout of Russ and KDs relationship
The story of two Hall of Fame talents and their fractured relationship.
In what many have described as one of the more cowardly acts seen in sport in recent years, NBA superstar Kevin Durant chose to leave the OKC Thunder during the offseason and join the already stacked Golden State Warriors. In the process Durant parted ways with close friend and long-time teammate Russell Westbrook in a bid to earn championship glory.
To make matters worse for the future hall of fame duo, it was later revealed that KD had not even spoken to Westbrook about his choice to depart, leaving their friendship in tatters and the state of Oklahoma in disbelief. Adding further insult to the OKC fanbase, the departure of Serge Ibaka, the other member of the OKC ‘Big 3’, left the Thunder reeling and coach Billy Donovan with a tough task ahead in keeping OKC relevant within the Western Conference. The hopes of a franchise would now come to rest on the shoulders of Russell “The Brodie” Westbrook.
Upon release of the season’s fixtures, the OKC faithful (and all NBA fanatics) would circle their calendars for November 3rd, the first meeting between the two former teammates who had not spoken since KD’s defection to the Bay Area. In what was saving grace for KD, the game would be played at Oracle Arena, allowing the home crowd to get behind the 2013-14 MVP and drown out the boos of the few OKC enthusiasts that would travel to California.
Come game time there was certainly no love lost between the two (and the rest of the Thunder team towards KD in fact), however Golden State would come out on top with a definitive 122-96 win, and Durant would have the last laugh, with a game-high 39 points, including 7-11 from beyond the arc.
18th January, the 2nd of 4 meetings between the teams this season at Oracle Arena would once again go to the Warriors 121-100. This was despite another big performance from Westbrook, who would earn his 21st triple-double of the season on 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists (plus 10 turnovers, to earn a quadruple-double for those basketball purists). But once again KD would leave the court smiling, with another game-high performance against his old franchise, recording 40 points and 12 rebounds and in turn, setting up a mouth-watering return to Oklahoma in the next meeting.
February 11. The time had come. The return of Durant to OKC. Extra security detail, check, disgruntled fans, check, and visual aids from the fans that left nothing to the imagination, check. As KD entered Chesapeake Arena, a chorus of boos and no doubt, several expletives were hurled in the direction of the man they once cheered for, but that only seemed to spur Durant on. Every touch of the ball by the superstar was met with an eruption of jeers from the OKC fans, with KD going 2-8 in the 1st quarter, and seemingly looking put off, which would have been expected for the average Joe. However, he was able to shake it off and shot 10-13 in the remaining 3 quarters, once again top scoring for the Warriors against the Thunder with 34 points and leaving his average over the season’s contests between the two so far at 37.7 points per game. Westbrook, not to be outdone, would come close to another triple-double scoring 47 points (including 16-18 from the charity stripe), and having 11 rebounds and 8 assists, but also equalling a career high 11 turnovers.
In what was no surprise, the Warriors would get up again for a 130-114 win and move to 46-8 stretching their lead at the top of the Western Conference to 4.5 games over San Antonio and leaving the Thunder at 31-24, sitting back in 7th place, 6.5 games clear of 8th seed Denver.
However, the basketball in this contest played second fiddle to the dramatic scenes that this game was expected to produce, and did. Throughout the game, the crowd labelled Durant as cupcake, a term coined by fellow teammate Kendrick Perkins a few seasons back to denote someone who was acting ‘soft’, with the OKC fans seeing Durant’s cowardly departure as this.
There was constant tension between the teams throughout the game and this came to fruition when a timeout was called midway through the 3rd quarter and KD and Russ exchanged words as the pair walked towards their respective benches with Westbrook letting KD know he was there and was “coming to get him”. KD was then fouled later in the 3rd by OKC small forward Andre Roberson during a routine layup, causing him to go crashing hard into the backboard support. Fortunately, Durant was able to get straight back up and the pair then exchanged words. As Durant walked off to the line to shoot his free throws, Roberson seemed to say something that got under the skin of KD, causing him to turn around and square up as the two went nose-to-nose. They had to be separated by teammates and officials, but the war of words continued and the pair went for round 2 of their push and shove, with both players receiving a technical foul to their name for their parts in the fracas.
The final nail in the coffin by Durant came in the 4th quarter with just under 4 minutes to play and the score at 120-104 in Golden State’s favour. With Westbrook guarding him, Durant would come off a Klay Thompson screen to nail a 28 footer from beyond the arc right over the outstretched arms of his former teammate, turning to the crowd and putting his arm in the air to signify OKC were done for in the contest and he was once again the man of Oklahoma City. Reports out of Oklahoma later that night stated that Durant and Westbrook also dined in the same restaurant about 15 feet away from each other post game, not speaking a word, which has added further fuel to the fire.
With all the controversy surrounding the 3 games that have now been played this season between KD and Russ, it is hard to see their friendship ever being anything like it once was. There is certainly a huge amount of bitterness still lingering between the two, leading to what will be another eventful matchup when the teams return to Chesapeake Arena on March 21st.
However, before then, the two will come together again when they become teammates in the All-Star game, as they represent the Western Conference. While KD was named as a starter, Westbrook will enter off the bench, after being beaten out for the starting guard spots by Steph Curry and James Harden, in what was seen as one of the biggest snubs in All-Star history, considering the rare numbers Russ is putting up the season (apparently averaging a triple double over the first 57 games of the season and basically single-handedly carrying your team to a playoffs spot is not good enough to earn you a start).
This will be the first time they have played together since the ‘divorce’ and the NBA world will be watching in anticipation, hoping that they take the floor at the same time during the game. Should this occur, it will be interesting to see the dynamics of their on-court relationship and whether either of them become like that ball-hogging kid in the playground and snub one another should an apparent passing option present itself. Either way, the only thing healing this relationship by the looks of things, is time.