Saturday night’s game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors is more than just another game for Kevin Durant.
It’s been well-documented that this contest, in particular, holds more emotional weight than any other because this is Durant’s return to Oklahoma City. Durant gave nine fantastic years to this city and organization, and his business partner, Rich Kleinman, is expecting an “emotionally charged, contentious” atmosphere Saturday night, and the Warriors are taking no safety chances.
According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, the team is tripling their amount of security on this road trip.
Durant’s reception by his old fans, who are still reeling from their former superstar’s decision, is expected to be less than warming. After all, his grandiose basketball persona helped put a small market on the map, and he’s the greatest player ever to suit up for that franchise. In his nine seasons, he took the Thunder to the playoffs six times, to the Western Conference Finals three times and to the NBA Finals back in 2012.
On top of that, Durant was a seven-time All-Star who made six All-NBA teams, won four scoring titles and was named the 2013-14 NBA MVP.
He gave blood, sweat and tears to that city on the basketball court, but his presence in the community trumped all that.
Even with the move out to the Bay, Durant still has charitable interests in Oklahoma City, and Haynes said that Kleinman is going to work as an extension of the 28-year-old and touch base with all the organizations Durant supports.
As for the game, the Thunder are likely not to play a tribute video or go over the top when welcoming back Durant. They’ll acknowledge his presence, but it’s straight to tipoff after the starting lineups get announced.
The first two meetings have been won by Golden State in dominating fashion, dismantling the Thunder by 47 combined points. Durant’s been remarkably unstoppable and has poured in 79 points on 70 percent shooting in the two games while totaling just 65 minutes.
Russell Westbrook is the other player to watch, and his two showings against the Warriors have been equal parts impressive and concerning. He’s averaging a triple-double with 23.5 points, 11.5 assists and 10.5 rebounds in those games, but Westbrook’s shooting a paltry 31.6 percent from the field and also averaging eight turnovers. If he were to go out and notch another triple-double tonight, it’d be a typical night at the office.
The media and the fans (myself included) like to hype up the animosity between the former teammates when there really isn’t any. They may not like each other or be on speaking terms, but saying both harbor disdain isn’t the proper team — it’s more awkward than anything else.
Even without highlighting that narrative, the game is still highly anticipated. Westbrook is going to play balls to the walls; Durant’s going to ball alongside his teammates, and the Warriors are most likely going to nab the victory because they’re playing incredibly well. The only thing I hope for is a competitive game that’s wire-to-wire for 48 minutes. I don’t care who wins, but the fans from OKC would love nothing more than seeing their new hometown hero take down the star who, they feel, betrayed them.
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