Well, that was anticlimactic. After an intense buildup, the first battle between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook went firmly in Durant’s favor, as the Golden State Warriors blew out the Oklahoma City Thunder 122–96 in Oakland on Thursday.
This is what the Warriors do. They don’t care about narratives. They don’t care about personal rivalries. They simply tighten their vice grip around your favorite team’s defense until that team’s will is broken. The Dubs finally looked like the souped-up version of the Monstars we expected them to be, erasing the Thunder like how they did many teams last season—this time with the added benefit of Durant hitting open shot after open shot.
KD was sublime, scoring 29 in the first half en route to 39 points. He smiled. He trash talked. He cooked. Durant was simply unstoppable, and as Oklahoma City’s defense bent and twisted and broke trying to keep up with the Warriors’ embarrassment of riches on offense, Durant found himself benefiting with space behind the arc and clear lanes to the rim.
The game was forgettable for Westbrook. Declining to acknowledge Durant before the tip, Westbrook hardly sought out his former teammate during play as well. Outside of one sequence in which they blocked each other’s shots, Durant and Westbrook hardly went toe to toe on the court. Russ probably wouldn’t have been able to keep up. On the second night of a back-to-back, and with Golden State’s defense hell-bent on packing the paint, Westbrook couldn’t find any room to operate, and he finished with a pedestrian 20 points, along with 10 assists and six rebounds.
If the Thunder hope to do anything of note this season, they need much more from their supporting cast. Seemingly every lineup OKC used Thursday had at least one non-scorer on the court, making life particularly difficult for Russ. Interestingly, Enes Kanter was deemed unusable Thursday, playing only three minutes after earning plaudits for his large role in the West finals between the Dubs and Thunder.
There was no question entering Thursday that Golden State was the far superior team. But what should scare the rest of the league is not only the Warriors quickly figuring out how to dominate with Durant, but them also being able to easily win without huge nights from Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Igoudala. Once Durant asserted his dominance, Golden State’s other All-NBA starters were happy to become hilariously devastating role players.
As much as we wanted to force Durant vs. Westbrook into an instant classic, Thursday’s game went down how it should have. The better team with the historic collection of talent won. Durant probably has a little while to go before he feels truly validated and vindicated for joining the Warriors (think late June), but the ear-to-ear smile he flashed as the Warriors easily pulled away in the third quarter is probably a sign of things to come.