Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook NBA careers have been joined at the hip. The two superstars in their mid 20’s have done virtually everything you can think of on the NBA stage, and together while doing it.
Durant has been in the league for eight years, Westbrook one year less. While their paths were somewhat different – Durant the National Player of the Year coming out of Texas and a player who seem destined for NBA success. Then there’s Westbrook – like Durant a high draft pick, but his future greatness not as sure in the eyes of some.
And both have managed to deliver.
Both have led the league in scoring at one point in their career, Durant has done it four times. Durant has won both the league and All-Star game MVPs while making four All NBA first teams. Westbrook has made for All NBA second teams and added two All-Star game MVP’s to his accomplishments. They’ve even made a run to the NBA Finals back in 2012 before ultimately falling to the Miami Heat in five games.
Throughout their seven years together it’s been widely accepted that it’s Durant not Westbrook who is the alpha dog on the team. Durant at seven foot and the perimeter skill set he attains is maybe the best scorer in the NBA. You add his deadly long range shooting and it makes sense as to why the athletic anomaly that is Durant would be seen as the Thunder best player.
For the last five years as the Thunder have battled the San Antonio Spurs for the title of best team in the West the notion has largely been this – Kevin Durant is the Thunder best player. The team goes as he goes. Russell Westbrook is the x-factor, he’ll lose more games than he will win.
For a long time I was of this mindset as well and then last night happened.
In game one of the Western Conference Finals the Oklahoma City Thunder were on the road and down at halftime 60-47 to the Golden State Warriors. A team that had only lost three home games all regular season.
Then Russell Westbrook happened. After going just 1-10 through the first half and opening minutes of the third quarter – Westbrook came alive scoring 19 points, four steals, three assists and two rebounds with no turnovers. The Thunder deficit went from 13 to three and the team was back in the game.
Yet his 19 point scoring output in the quarter wasn’t the most impressive part of his game last night. Him shutting down Steph Curry in the fourth quarter was his shining moment. Steph Curry has been unstoppable all year, but not on Monday night and that was due to the greatness of Westbrook.
In one game Westbrook undoubtedly elevated himself as the Thunder head honcho. He brought the team back on offense and then took it upon himself on defense to hold the two time MVP to 9-24 shooting including a 1-5 fourth quarter.
The Thunder won game one, and while I don’t think this means they’ll win the series I do think something has been established. The Thunder are now led by Russell Westbrook, and if they win it will be on the back of him.
This isn’t a knock on Kevin Durant. He’s still the purer scorer and more deadly offensive player but, Russell Westbrook is a different type of beast and at the moment that’s all that matters.