The Christmas That Changed the Thunder
With there being no Christmas game for the Thunder this year, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the most significant December 25th in team history. You remember? Russell Westbrook goes for 14, 13, 10 only the 8th triple-double on Christmas in NBA history when Oklahoma City crushed the Knicks 123-94. He did shoot 5 of 15, but this is Russell Westbrook, and since when are we concerned with his shooting percentage?
The next day it was announced that Westbrook would undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, causing him to miss the next 27 games opening the door for Kevin Durant to carry the Thunder in Westbrook's absence. At the time, Durant's run to the MVP seemed like the beginning of what would be an annual event. He was the super-star that played flag football with college students; he and the Devon tower were "beacons of hope" for a city and state that always seemed to take its knocks be it dust bowls, acts of evil, tornados. John Steinbeck or tigers on the loose during sever weather.
That season Durant would score 30 points in 12 consecutive games, including a 54 point performance against the Warriors, a 46 point outing vs. the Trailblazers. One worth mentioning not in that stretch was Durant's 51 points in 52 minutes in Toronto when the Thunder beat the Raptors 119-118. Westbrook was back that night and only played 19 minutes and change.
We were all so caught up in the euphoria (as well we should have been) of Durant's season that we couldn't see what was going on beneath the surface. Durant realized he didn't need Westbrook. Durant probably felt that way all along. Any competitor of his stature feels they can put any team on their shoulders despite Durant's actions that would contradict that opinion.
Maybe we should blame Patrick Beverly for how this all played out. He did go for a steal in the playoffs that caused Westbrook to tear his Mencius. Durant alone couldn't get the Thunder past the Grizzlies in the next round, and Westbrook would have two surgeries before the 2013-2014 season got underway. Westbrook was supposed to miss significant time at the beginning of the season but only sat out two games. Did he rush it back? If he did, it fits Westbrooks modus operandi.
Either way, it gave Durant the time he needed to see what he was capable of with an excellent supporting cast sans another super-star, which is why his decisions to bolt for Golden State and Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving puzzling.
I say all this to say, as you sit down to enjoy another round of Christmas Day games even without the Thunder, don't take these matchups as just a way to get out of uncomfortable conversations with family members. What you could be watching is the start of a super-star realizing his destiny is elsewhere.