OKLAHOMA CITY – Throughout the eight years Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant played together, there was constant speculation and analysis of the actions and body language of both players toward one another.
So it should come as a surprise to no one that, more than a year after Durant left Oklahoma City as a free agent to sign with the Golden State Warriors, there is still constant speculation and analysis of the actions and body language of both players toward one another.
It didn’t take much speculation or analysis, though, to see what happened between the two midway through the third quarter of Oklahoma City Thunder’s 108-91 victory over the Warriors here Wednesday night. After Westbrook smacked the ball away from Durant on a drive to the basket, the ex-teammates started yapping at each other … and kept going … and going … and going.
After a good 10 seconds or so, the two migrated beneath the basket, where they touched foreheads and continued to keep talking at one another until they were separated by officials and were each given a technical foul.
All in all, it was a pretty benign moment – the kind that happens regularly throughout the course of an NBA season. But it doesn’t happen regularly when the people involved are former teammates, each of whom has been named the league’s MVP and are likely on their way to the Hall of Fame.
That, however, didn’t stop Westbrook and Durant from trying to downplay the incident after the game – much to the chagrin of reporters eager to try to spin a dramatic tale about the pair squaring off for the fifth time since Durant left the Thunder as a free agent in the summer of 2016.
“I play the same way every night,” Westbrook said. “If it’s against Kevin, if it’s against [the Pistons’] Reggie Jackson, [the Mavericks’] Dennis Smith. It doesn’t matter who it is.
“On the court, I don’t got no friends. The only friend I have is the basketball. That’s it … and obviously my teammates. But I go out there and compete, and I go out there and play at a high level, like I’ve been saying since day one.
“That’s what I do.”
As for Durant, he said: “That’s just ball. That’s just ball. He’s competitive, I’m competitive, we like to go at it, both of us, and that’s just part of the game.
“I respect it, I’ve got nothing but love for him.”
When another reporter tried to play up the drama, though, Durant was having none of it.
“Did you watch the game, or just try to watch for the scuffles?” he asked.
When the reporter replied that there were multiple story lines during the game, Durant responded, “Oh, ok.”
“The story is about the game. We lost. They kicked our [butt]. They played a great game. You should give them credit for how they played, and we should be better. It’s not about who is in each other’s faces. That stuff is not real. So please, don’t believe it. All the fans, they’re lying to y’all. This is about basketball.
“They played a great game, and we didn’t.”
It wasn’t about basketball a year ago, when Durant and the Warriors came here for the first time since he left as a free agent and arrived to discover an explosive environment that exceeded in expectation almost any regular season event in recent memory, save for the return of LeBron James to Cleveland in 2010 (because, let’s be honest, nothing is ever going to top that).
But everything about this night felt different. Before the game, the reception Durant received from fans watching him warm up was tepid, at best – a smattering of boos, with some cheers mixed in, as well as fans seeking his autograph.
Last year, for example, featured a child running around in a cupcake costume, playing off a famed Westbrook Instagram photo of cupcakes – a word the Thunder used to describe a soft player while Durant was playing there – that Westbrook posted in the hours after Durant announced his decision to leave for Golden State.
And during Wednesday’s contest, while there were boos, it was nothing more than the usual run-of-the-mill catcalls for the star of an opposing team – nothing more than, for example, what Draymond Green received here during the Western Conference finals two years ago.
“Yeah, it was a little better,” Durant said. “It’s nothing like the first time, I’m sure. Everybody in the arena, they said what they had to say [last year].”
But that doesn’t mean everyone is done analyzing everything these two former superstar teammates do, or say, when they are on the court with one another.
Moments like the one between them Wednesday night will only give more fuel to that speculation.
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