Warriors (45-8, 22-5 road) vs. Thunder (31-23, 19-7 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 104.0 (21st), Warriors – 114.0 (1st)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 104.4 (7th), Warriors – 101.3 (2nd)
July 4th. By the time the words, “My Next Chapter,” were read, the next thought in most people’s subconscious was, “When does Kevin Durant return to Oklahoma City?” Even though the schedule was still a month away from being released, this was the most pervasive question on the mind of the populace. Would it be on Opening Night? Would the NBA buck their tradition of having the previous Finals competitors duke it out on Christmas and instead, feature this primetime game?
Well, the NBA did neither. But don’t disregard where this game landed on the NBA’s schedule. A week after the Super Bowl and a week before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. The NBA currently has a monopoly on the sports world, and this particular game is their Boardwalk property. The first two games out in Oakland earlier this season whet the appetite a little, but they neglected to check off the biggest box of all: Durant’s return to Oklahoma City.
That’s the game that would be drenched in narratives. Storylines upon storylines upon storylines. Just look at all the great pieces that have come out in the days leading up to the game: Anthony Slater’s piece, Royce Young’s piece for ESPN, Andrew Schlecht’s piece for Daily Thunder. The list literally can go on and on. The story of Durant and Oklahoma City doesn’t just emcompass the 8 years he was in OKC. Those 8 years actually become a vacuum for this region as it transcends not just it’s present, but also it’s distant past.
Oklahomans are fighters by nature. But we’re not aggressors. We’re more like the Bayonne Bleeder: we take the punches, get knocked down, but still get back up. Durant was the guy that made us feel like we had a puncher’s chance. He’s the one that felt like the great equalizer. We were big league because of the Thunder. But we were world-wide because of Durant.
But like many relationships, sometimes the entities within the relationship start to change. Durant has always been legacy-driven. “I’m tired of coming in 2nd,” is what he quoted to Sports Illustrated several years ago. Maybe the foot injury shook him a little. Maybe watching Paul George go out with a snapped leg in an exhibition game made him realize that his time on the court is not infinite. Durant, at 28, had to make a big boy decision. And he chose to go with the easier path. I don’t chide him for that. Objectively, it was probably the better choice.
But I’m not objective. As a Thunder fan, I’m very subjective. And his decision hurt me to my core. I’ll admit, I was in a bit of shock for a couple days after the decision. In my mind, there’s an alternate ending where me, my kids, my wife, my parents, my sister, my brother in law are all in Bricktown celebrating the Thunder’s first championship. It’s a beautiful sunny day in downtown OKC and the festivities are full boar. But now, that scenario likely won’t play out. No, not the championship scenario. That may still happen. We still have one of the best basketball players on the planet here in OKC. And if we can somehow get that second superstar player, then we may be back on track. But that’s not the scenario I was thinking of. The scene that will never play out now is that of Westbrook and Durant arm in arm on the championship podium in Bricktown finally achieving what they’ve worked soooooo hard to achieve all these years. And in Westbrook’s arm isn’t the championship trophy. No…..it’s his newborn son……representing the dynasty that was sure to come next.
This is why Oklahoma City will boo Durant. Because he left when the going got tough. He left in the final semester of college. He did the most un-Oklahoma thing of all: he quit.
We will do the same thing we’ve always done. We’ll dust ourselves off and get back up. And we’ll have Westbrook helping us up. And Nick Collison. And Steven Adams. And Andre Roberson. And Enes Kanter (with his one good arm). We’ll be alright. To some, the healing will begin tonight.
This game doesn’t necessitate a regular primer. We know the Warriors beat the Thunder in their first two meetings in Oakland in convincing fashion. We know the Warriors are good. We know what the Thunder have to do: defend the perimeter, force turnovers, hope that one of the perimeter 3 has a bad shooting night, and attack the paint. It’s pretty simple.
This is about putting everything where it belongs, in the past. Kevin Durant isn’t walking on to the Chesapeake floor with a Thunder jersey. Instead he’ll be donning a blue and yellow jersey. So he is what he is: an opponent. And he’ll be treated accordingly. Boo him, cheer him. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the 13 guys wearing the Thunder jerseys. And that’s how it’s always been.