Kevin Durant Cake Walks Russell Westbrook, Thunder In Oklahoma City Return

0:40 | NBA
Kevin Durant hires extra security for return to Oklahoma City
Sunday February 12th, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY — Every NBA game has a charge, and only occasionally does that charge have anything to do with basketball. Matchups can be immaterial. Strategy can come secondary. The NBA is above all else a business, and theater above all beyond that—a hierarchy brought into stark relief by Kevin Durant’s long-awaited return to Oklahoma City on Saturday night. 
 
“The pregame festivities,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “felt like a Finals game.”
 
 
The anticipation began last July, in the exact moment Durant announced he would sign with the Warriors. It reached a fever pitch not with a climactic run or a game for the ages, but in heated, flashbulb exchanges. Even as Golden State’s lead hovered around 20, Russell Westbrook gave a voice to a collective rage in chattering back and forth with Durant. Andre Roberson literally went head to head with Durant after his own foul, all the better to feed the fervor. Fans in attendance responded with their loudest chant of the night. CUP-CAKE. CUP-CAKE. A baked good became a rallying cry, not so subtly digging at the superstar forward who left a great team to join an even better one. Westbrook himself is to blame.
 
Whether a fan base can find catharsis in some on-court confrontation is a matter for Oklahoma City to decide. After dancing around the idea for months, Westbrook finally lashed out against Durant in undeniable fashion. There was no outfit with subtext that could be shrugged off. There was no question that could be dodged—though boy, did Westbrook still try:
 

 
Westbrook is always fiery, but on Saturday his flame was pointed. The best that could be hoped for from a Thunder perspective was a chance to tie up an emotional loose end. Westbrook, at times, channeled that hope as a vengeful spirit. 
 
Predictably, it wasn’t enough. There is fair reason why the basketball itself served as backdrop to Saturday’s event. The question of how the Thunder measure up against the Warriors has been asked and answered, both in their previous, lopsided meetings and the greater arc of their respective seasons. Oklahoma City is quite good but inescapably flawed; even Westbrook’s historic play cannot save the Thunder’s cramped spacing, nor can he redeem empty reserve lineups during his minutes of rest. Golden State is a behemoth by every measure, most notably the rare intersection of a No. 1-rated offense and No. 2-ranked defense. We’ve seen the energy of a particular stage narrow that kind of gap, but Golden State’s talent makes them far too elusive. A few early minutes of draggy offense gave way to a downpour. It was Curry sidestepping his way into threes. It was Thompson firing away, curiously unattended on the weak side. It was JaVale McGee, left open in the scramble. And when it wasn’t: There was Durant (34 points, nine rebounds), noticeably aggressive, gutting the defense with hard drives.
 
“He led us tonight,” Thompson said. “He is so efficient out there in what he does and his aggressiveness triggered us as a team.”
 
 
There would be no Big Takeaway from these 48 minutes, no matter the build up into Durant’s first touch and Russell Westbrook’s first contact. Golden State rebuffed every advance, to the point where all of the organic energy of the night seemed oblivious of the scoreboard. The best OKC could do trimmed the game into the lower double-digits. Still the Thunder faithful relished every chance to cheer Durant’s misses and seemed to exalt Westbrook even more than usual. His play more than justified it. No Warrior could keep between Westbrook and the rim. The bill for that deficit rang up as 47 points, eight assists, and 11 rebounds, though a crowded lane did also nudge the Thunder’s lone superstar into 11 turnovers. 
 
Only the Warriors could give up 47 to a player in a landmark game and still finish the night with matters well in hand. This was a blowout—one with all the trappings of a more competitive game, but unbalanced by the standards of actual basketball. On some level, the Thunder’s home crowd seemed satisfied. They cheered the team with a rousing ovation in the closing seconds, a 16-point loss made official. Then they chanted. CUP-CAKE. CUP-CAKE.
 

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After the game, a victorious Green emerged from the locker room wearing a cupcake t-shirt, newly acquired. “Oh, they made ‘em here,” Green said of his wardrobe addition. “Somebody out there blessed me with one.” Then came Curry, wearing another. According to Curry, he scored one of the shirts by bartering off some Warriors warm-up gear to Thunder fans behind the bench. “It was a fair trade,” Curry said. Such are the spoils of winning. Golden State can move on to the next thing smiling, with Durant now an essential Warrior and the title within their reach. Chant away. A team this versatile, this overwhelming, this incontestably potent—they get to have their cake and eat it, too.

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