A towel over his head in the waning moments and Kevin Durant’s spectacular, statement-making night in the books at last, he could finally breathe and briefly forget the constant chatter about his departure from Oklahoma City.
It came from everywhere. It came for months. A matchup — and rematch — circled from the moment he joined the Golden State Warriors way back in July. KD’s big decision that left a fan base and a franchise feeling scorned.
Durant got the last word in the first reunion against Russell Westbrook and his old Thunder teammates, going off for 39 points and matching his career high with seven 3-pointers in Golden State’s 122-96 dismantling of previously unbeaten OKC on Thursday night in a rematch of the thrilling seven-game Western Conference Finals .
“I don’t want to say any part was strange. I’ve moved on,” Durant said. “I’m part of the Golden State Warriors. I’m excited to be part of this team. What I did those last eight years was special and something I’m never going to forget, but I’m trying to look forward. I just try to separate those emotions and feelings and also try to do my job.”
That meant no greetings at tipoff or pregame pleasantries needed between KD and old pal Russ.
Nah. There’s no love lost between these superstars who went their separate ways after their summer ended empty-handed — having squandered a 3-1 lead in the West Finals to Durant’s new team.
“When I go on the court I don’t talk to anybody but my teammates,” Westbrook said afterward. He had reason to be a little grumpy: His rough 20-point outing dropped him from the NBA’s leading scorer with a 38.7 average coming into the night to second at 34.2.
Westbrook showed up at Oracle Arena donning a bright orange “Official Photographer” vest, and left wearing it, too. It was quickly pointed out that photography is one of Durant’s off-the-court passions.
“There’s no particular reason, there’s no story behind it, it’s just because I wanted to wear it,” Westbrook said. “I don’t wear anything for nobody. I wear what I want to wear, when I want to wear it.”
That vest came all the way from Madrid.
With the hype surrounding a testy reunion, this rivalry might be here for the long haul.
“Subplots like this don’t just go away,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
How could it?
Durant left OKC for the Bay Area and a chance to play alongside two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, while Westbrook stayed put as the Thunder’s night-in, night-out star.
“The decision he made was in July, so we’ve all here had to move past it,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
It didn’t take Durant long to get going, and when he did he was unstoppable.
“He came out confident so that first shot went in and it was off to the races from there,” Curry said. “It was definitely fun. We knew how much it meant for him to just get out there and play with all the noise around the game.”
Durant knocked down a 28-foot 3 on Golden State’s initial possession, back-to-back jumpers late in the first before a reverse lay-in and three-point play on which he breezed by Jerami Grant and let some words fly. Grant had dunked on him earlier , after all.
“When you get dunked on like that, as a competitor out there you want to come back and try to make a play and try to ignite your team,” Durant said. “He ignited his team with that dunk. I was just trying to do the same throughout the whole game.”
Durant hit Golden State’s final four field goals of the first quarter with a late 3 as the Warriors got back within 32-31. He shot 15 for 24 in his third 30-point performance and the Warriors’ fourth straight victory since they lost 129-100 to the Spurs in KD’s debut Oct. 25.
Even Kerr was about as fired up as he gets on the bench, hit with a technical in the first when a foul wasn’t called on a Curry 3-point attempt — “he got mauled,” Kerr said afterward. Assistant coach Mike Brown had to hold him back.
Little needed to be said to Durant on this night.
“We knew that was a huge game for him. He wanted to win that game and if you don’t want to win that game, I’m questioning what kind of competitor you are,” Green said. “We wanted to rally around him and make sure we got that done.”