OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were in step, more so figuratively than ever before, and this time quite literally as they walked away from the ashes that were the Golden State Warriors’ hopes of a smooth run to back-to-back championships.
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s dynamic duo did not raise their arms, pump their fists or rear back their heads and yell to celebrate their 108-102 victory in the Western Conference finals opener. A quick five, a tap on the chest from Westbrook to Durant and they were on their way, as businesslike as Stockton and Malone.
They weren’t beautiful, but they were balanced. Sure, Durant and Westbrook missed 34 shots between them. They also had nearly identical scoring outputs, with 27 points from Westbrook and 26 from Durant. Durant kept telling his teammates everything they needed to do to win this game. Westbrook kept expending all of his energy to give the Thunder every possible chance. Leadership in different ways, leadership they’re more capable than ever of providing.
“They both have just grown … as far as just becoming men,” said Thunder backup big man Nazr Mohammed, who played his first stint in Oklahoma City in 2011 and 2012. “I mean, they’re adults.”
They’ve matured to the point that Mohammed will admit his veteran perspective isn’t as needed as it was before, when the Thunder brought in old heads such as himself, Derek Fisher and Caron Butler to add experienced voices in the locker room. Durant and Westbrook can handle that themselves now. In fact, they can even provide guidance to their rookie coach, Billy Donovan, as they go through their fourth conference finals while he experiences his first.
Donovan trusted their judgment when it came to second-half playing time. Westbrook told him he needed just a quick breather, so he sat out for four minutes. Durant told Donovan to leave him in the entire third and fourth quarters, confident that he could gather his wind during the extended timeouts.
“Did I look tired?” Durant asked back to a query about his fatigue.
Well, he did miss eight of his first 11 shots in the fourth quarter, some of them wide open. Durant wouldn’t accept lack of energy as an excuse. If anything, he felt his last open miss was too strong.