Rollin' In The Rye

Russell Westbrook shies away in first Kevin Durant, Warriors rematch


If you were expecting Russell Westbrook on Thursday night to attack Kevin Durant like a lion and a gazelle, you weren’t alone.

In a highly anticipated matchup between former teammates, it was finally Westbrook’s time to get his revenge on the court against Durant. They were exchanging mixed signals and shots the entire summer, and leading into Thursday’s game they certainly didn’t fade away. Durant was portrayed as soft and disloyal as part of the Golden State Warriors, the complete opposite of a headstrong Westbrook known most for his competitive fire.

The last time these two teams went against each other, it was also in the Western Conference Finals. Back then, Durant was on the Thunder – until he and Westbrook gave up a 3-1 series lead; leading to a shocking free agency decision by the 2013-14 MVP.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder finally stepped on the court in front of a roaring Oracle Arena, their leader in Russell Westbrook had uncharacteristically taken a step back. It wasn’t anything like the NBA had seen when Durant and Westbrook were once paired as teammates. Instead, the dynamic point guard shrunk into himself, as Durant proved he was the better player on his way to a 39-point performance in a 122-96 victory for the Warriors.

Instead of attacking at all costs, Westbrook deferred to his teammates for, what it seemed like, his first time in a Thunder uniform. He didn’t drive to the basket looking to smash the hoop, or even resort to his tunnel-vision at times to build momentum. He backed down to his former teammate, who put on a show in his new uniform.

The Russell Westbrook that everyone had been grown to accept, even while playing 8 seasons alongside Kevin Durant, didn’t even show up on Thursday night. He ultimately finished with 20 points and 15 field goal attempts, both season-lows, while the Warriors quickly took advantage and poured in points of their own.

After only taking 3 shots to start off the 1st quarter, he did try to become aggressive in the 2nd – but it led to him going 1-10 from the field. His only made field goal was a 3-point attempt, while he also went 0-7 at the rim. Westbrook’s poor performance to start the game also led to the Thunder facing a 25-point deficit by halftime. It was Durant that created that huge lead for the Warriors, scoring 29 of his 39 points in the 1st half.

Going into the 2nd half, it was an opportunity for Westbrook to respond, silent Oracle Arena, and prove that he wasn’t going to back down.  Instead, Westbrook wouldn’t do anything to make up his lacklustre performance in the 1st half, with him only putting up 2 shots in the 10 minutes he played in the 3rd quarter.

Westbrook finished the night going 4-15 from the field for 20 points, to go along with his 6 rebounds, 10 assists, and 6 turnovers. They’re numbers that certainly don’t  match up to when Westbrook was battling the Warriors last postseason with Durant by his side, on his way to averaging 26.7 points on 22.4 field goal attempts a game.

At times it seemed like the beast in Westbrook would finally emerge on Thursday night, since he finally had the freedom to do so without Durant by his side. He did get to the free throw line 14 times, and he also emphatically blocked Durant from the behind. But, every time that it looked like Westbrook was about to take over the game; he would shy away and watch his former teammate out duel him in front of his new home crowd.

Durant finished with a game high 39 points on 7-11 shooting from 3-point distance, to go along with 7 rebounds and a block. Right from the start, Durant looked focused on creating a blowout. Next to his All-Star teammates on the Warriors, he also looked comfortable on the court as he put on a show on his way to a 122-96 victory. It was a highly anticipated statement over his former team, after he left them in free agency in controversial fashion.

The Warriors and Thunder, and most notably Durant and Westbrook, have 3 more matchups before the season ends. It’s unknown if Westbrook will enter Oracle Arena once again on Jan. 18, taking jabs at Durant with his “photographer” outfit, but we’ll need to see a determined beast ready to put his stamp on the game. Durant will have to wait till Feb. 11, 2017, to make his return to the Chesapeake Energy Arena; a matchup that will without a doubt having a more haunting atmosphere than the one on Thursday night.

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You can follow Bryan Meler on Twitter @BryanMelo97






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