The Oklahoma City Thunder traveled to Oakland, California on Wednesday night with a Kevin Durant-sized chip on their shoulder. Russell Westbrook strode into Oracle Arena in a bizarre outfit meant as a not-at-all-subtle rebuttal of Durant’s earlier entente through the media. Durant and the Golden State Warriors deferred from making any pre-game statements, instead opting to do all of the talking (in some cases, literal) on the basketball court.
The Warriors blasted the hinges off of the Thunder’s doors, earning a cathartic, tour-de-force 122 - 96 victory.
The Thunder found solid footing early on in the first quarter, assisted by an adrenaline-jittery Warriors team eager to prove everything at once. Propelled by aberrant shooting from decidedly non-threating Thunder shooters and the ruggedly athletic Steven Adams, the Thunder attack was predictably bull-headed but nevertheless effective. On the other end, Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, and Durant were amped to the point of losing cohesiveness. Midway through the first quarter, the Thunder led 31 - 21.
On this night, however, Durant would not allow Westbrook and co. to have the final word. Catalyzed by a Steve Kerr technical (complete with a legitimate “hold me back!” duet between Kerr and assistant Mike Brown), Durant ignited the Warriors. He created a personal 10-point run that bridged the first and second quarters. Durant’s personal explosion coincided with Westbrook sitting out, a twofold whammy that ultimately sealed the game barely 12 minutes into action.
For the brief time that Westbrook spent off the floor in competitive minutes, the Thunder offense tail-spinned. Completely neutered of any threat, the Thunder statically passed around the perimeter with tunnel-vision towards Enes Kanter (of KD-subtweeting fame) in the post.
The momentum built by Durant’s fiery play and the Thunder’s gormless sans-Westbrook offense was game-breaking. By the time coach Billy Donovan scrambled to check Westbrook back in, the Thunder superstar found himself working against four All-NBA Warriors, a charged bloodthirsty Oracle crowd, and inertia itself.
The Warriors closed the half on a 47 - 12 run, replete with Durant highlights from every spot on the court en route to 29 halftime points. Announcer Chris Webber and analyst Kenny Smith both had a tremulous crack in their voices as they broke down the 37 - 11 second quarter the Warriors ran up against the Thunder.
The game was over at that point; the 24 remaining minutes were purely academic. Westbrook had gone through a 1 - 10 stretch from the floor and found himself stymied by a focused Warrior help defense; Kanter’s highlight on the night was jawing at Durant from the bench as “Warriors” chants rained down from the rafters and the Thunder down 23; after a quick start, Adams found himself in a self-destructing off-ball dog fight with willing participant Zaza Pachulia (an unforeseen strong performer on a night many predicted to be his funeral).
The second half of basketball played was decidedly less satisfying. The Warriors, point proven and win secured, played with less passion and precision. Westbrook snatched a few rebounds over his own center with all five Warriors already on the other side of half court. Victor Oladipo hit enough outside shots in the third quarter to keep the Thunder in the same timezone as the Warriors on the scoreboard. Klay Thompson began his expected reanimation, tripling his total three point makes on the season with four three pointers on the night.
The Warriors will play the Thunder twice more this season, traveling to Oklahoma City on February 11. One wouldn’t expect to hear the same “KD! KD!” chants that rained down from the crowd tonight in Oklahoma — but perhaps Westbrook and Kanter won’t be so eager to poke the bear in the intervening days between these two teams’ next clash.