So let me get this straight: two alpha basketball talents, two guys who have grown up as number-one options, two All-Stars convinced they are bound for royalty, had words the other night during Oklahoma City’s first loss to Denver during this postseason? One guy took 30 shots and only made 12; the other had 31 points on 18 shots. But yet someone kept shooting, kept looking off the other, and kept screwing up, ultimately leading to an extension of the Nuggets’ season.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are a lot of things. Finished products though, they are not.
Don’t get me wrong, Westbrook is a fantastic player, and at 22 he’s going to be one for a long time. But he’s a fantastic player with a Colorado-sized chip on his shoulder, and his quest to leave his imprint on every possession of every game often takes him racing past the nuances that could make him a better point guard and a better basketball player.
That’s what John Hollinger wrote in the aftermath of OKC’s three-point Game 4 loss. During the game, TNT’s Pam Oliver reported the verbal dispute. How big was it? Obviously not big enough for the cameras to catch it. It could’ve gone down a little like this:
KD: Pass the #$%^&* ball!
Russ: (pride swelling) $%^& you! Whatever…
KD: You got other people open. Give it up!
Russ: (waves him off and looks away)
And then possibly, Russ used the extra juice to go out in the second half and try to prove that he wasn’t wrong, wasn’t going outside of the system and wasn’t hurting his team by shooting a lot, shooting seven threes and missing three huge deep balls at the end of the game. In the postgame, probably, the two young kings dapped up, told a joke, and went back home where they are probably killing each other playing 2k11 right now.
Questions will be presented because we are conditioned to think a certain way. History, especially recent history, tells us great players can’t play together. Too much ego and pride all jammed together in one jar. We automatically assume it won’t work out. But Oklahoma City appears different. It’s Thunder U. They’re like an extremely talented high school team playing together, and Lord knows high school kids fight a lot. Most of it ends up either being petty or being about the one thing that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle in pro sports: winning.
“We’ve been doing that all season,” Durant told the Oklahoman. “That’s a part of a basketball team. You’re not going to always be happy all the time. … Sometimes you have to scream at guys for them to get the point. That’s what we were doing.”
I have no problem with Westbrook taking 30 shots. I truly don’t. What I don’t understand is Westbrook’s insistence on trying to prove he can make outside shots. That was my only beef. Thunder coach Scott Brooks told the Oklahoman something similar.
“It was all about trying to do the right thing,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We got to get a stop. That’s what it was about. We got to stop the ball. Their point guards are getting inside the paint. The bigs and the guards have got to do a better job of stopping the basketball. That’s what the conversation was about.
“It’s funny because it’s in the playoffs on national TV, but it happens a lot. It doesn’t happen every timeout every game. But guys are emotional. Guys care about what we do and they express that and I like that. I do the same thing.”
Disagreements aren’t rare. They can be disastrous, but they aren’t rare, and this little argument strikes me as best friend to best friend or brother to brother. I don’t believe Durant was angry at Russ for keeping the ball away from him and hogging the spotlight. I believe KD simply wanted to win, and recognized that Westbrook was sliding down a slope of pride and frustration by attempting to prove something during the game that he didn’t necessarily need to.
Arguments happen all the time. It happens nightly, all the way down to middle-school teams. When we get down to it, this will all be forgotten once the Thunder wrap up their first-round series tonight. No one will care about petty arguments once KD & Russ move on to bigger and better things.
Do the Thunder have any type of long-term issues with two players who can dominate the ball?
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