Russell Westbrook Needs More Help Before Warriors-Thunder Becomes Rivalry

Thursday January 19th, 2017

For the second time this season, what was supposed to be a marquee matchup turned into a laugher, as Golden State pummeled Oklahoma City 121-100 Wednesday night. It was roughly the 742nd time in the last three seasons the Dubs throttled an opponent many fans had hoped would give them a good fight. Every time the Warriors blow someone out of the water, it’s impossible not to sense the feeling of helplessness overcoming their opponent.

As for the reason many of us tuned into the game, Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook may have to remain an off-court rivalry for the foreseeable future. Westbrook said after the game he’s still not on speaking terms with Durant after his former teammate announced he was joining the Warriors in July. On the court, Durant is letting his game do all the talking, as he continues to score with ease alongside his superstar cast, while Westbrook has to wring every last drop of success out of his teammates by grinding incredibly hard every night.

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Durant scored effortlessly on Wednesday, pouring in 40 points on 13-of-16 shooting in only 34 minutes. Leveraging the talent of his teammates, Durant found himself getting very favorable matchups on the offensive end, adding in a heat check or two for good measure after he got going. Durant’s fireworks display was in stark contrast to Westbrook, who had to throw his body around to earn points at the free throw line, all while struggling from the field as he faced wave after wave of defenders. Westbrook finished with 27, hitting only eight of his 23 field goal attempts.

Does this sound familiar? Because it’s practically the same script from the last time these two teams met. The only difference between Wednesday night and the Warriors’ first win over OKC was how long it took before the game turned into a blowout.

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The Thunder are a solid team who have exceeded expectations so far this season, but they are nowhere close to the class of the Warriors. Westbrook desperately needs more help on the offensive end. Guys like Cameron Payne and Domantas Sabonis often look timid or don’t shoot consistently enough to space the floor. Andre Roberson, who is truly a great defender, is still becoming borderline unplayable when these teams match up. Roberson is blatantly unguarded when he’s playing offense, and he shot 1-of-7 Wednesday despite only getting open looks.

It’s just unfair to expect anything different than a Warriors rout when they match up with the Thunder. Westbrook deserves better, particularly when it seems like he has to expound every ounce of energy in his body to lead his team to a win while Durant can seemingly coast his way to a cool 40 points. But no one in the NBA will feel sorry for Russ, and Durant’s decision to join Golden State is only validated more and more every time he gets to drain another in-rhythm three.

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What the Thunder-Warriors matchups have lacked in competitiveness—which is what I want to see more than anything—they’ve made up for in showcasing how devastating the Warriors can be when Durant is at the top of his game. Golden State didn’t get an MVP night from Steph Curry or a massive contribution off the bench, but Durant’s dominance rendered it all moot.

Ultimately, as fun as it would be to watch Russ exact some level of revenge after KD’s bitter departure from Oklahoma City, it’s going to take a lot more than a one-man band to derail the Warriors. Golden State and Durant just flexed their muscle on the Thunder for the second time this season. It’s going to take a long while and some big moves in OKC before this matchup is a fair fight. 

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