OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant scored 34 points as the Golden State Warriors defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 130-114 in a homecoming that oozed with bile.
Durant was serenaded with calls of “Coward!” as he trundled out of the tunnel. One fan shouted, “He don’t want to even hear it! He don’t want to even hear it!” as Durant took his first warm-up shot, headphones snugly on.
The hatred was palpable, though mixed with some mirth. Cupcake references abounded on the posters; there was even one Thunder fan in full cupcake costume. In the end, however, it would be Warriors All-Stars themselves donning cupcake attire, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green blessing the victory in T-shirts emblazoned with the neon confection.
At first, the Thunder seemed to channel the crowd energy, crashing the boards with a viciousness that matched the fans’ tenor.
It was a shaky start for the focus of the scornful attention. Durant began 2-of-8, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr appeared to call plays for him. For a long stretch of the first quarter, Golden State’s leading scorer was center JaVale McGee.
The introduction of Andre Iguodala changed the game at the half-quarter mark, as it so often does. Golden State’s defense and pace ramped up, forcing six Oklahoma City turnovers in the last six minutes of the quarter. The Warriors were flowing, but this wasn’t the deluge. That would come in the second.
“I feel like in certain situations we force ourselves to get into into a flow and are really precious with the ball,” Iguodala said of the run. “The ball’s moving. We just get this flow. Everybody’s doing exactly what four other guys think they’re going to do.”
Kevin Durant had many high moments during a 34-point night in which he hit some clutch shots to keep the Thunder at arm’s length. Layne Murdoch/NBA/Getty Images
For as much as the battle had been framed as Durant vs. Russell Westbrook, the game got away from the Thunder when both superstars were on the bench. Golden State’s bench unit, helped by Iguodala and Shaun Livingston (with copious help from Klay Thompson and Green), went on the kind of tear that ripped the game open.
Once starters joined the fray, the rout was on. Durant finally got loose, with a contested 3-pointer that rattled in, followed by a putback of a missed Thompson trey. Curry found his rhythm while playing a careful floor game and crashing the boards (26 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, no turnovers). The Warriors scored 43 points in the second quarter, their final basket coming on an emphatic Durant dunk in transition.
Golden State’s 23-point lead wasn’t exactly safe, though, not as long as Westbrook (47 points) still had energy to burn. The third quarter was his showcase, combined with an airing of grievances between Durant and old teammates. After hitting a 3 that inspired a Warriors timeout, Westbrook appeared to say, “I’m coming,” at a shrugging Durant. Not only was Westbrook’s third-quarter blitz brilliant (he had 20 points in the quarter), but he appeared to bait Durant into going shot for shot with him, resulting in offensive stagnation for Golden State.
With 1:45 left in the third quarter, tensions boiled over, as Andre Roberson and Durant exchanged words while literally bumping heads. That resulted in a technical foul for each, and one for good measure on Iguodala. “It’s all in the game,” Durant said of the scuffle. “Nothing’s going to seep off the floor, man. It’s part of the game, and I respect that. We should have just kept playing. I don’t think they should have reviewed anything.”
Meanwhile, on the sideline, security was telling Oklahoma City super fan “Big Rich” to stay away from Green. “That guy was just disrespectful to all of us the entire night,” Green said.
That heat seemed to fuel Oklahoma City. The Thunder sawed into the lead, shrinking it to 12 points with 6:52 remaining. Perhaps that’s not totally striking distance, but the crowd’s full-throated enthusiasm had the effect of making strange things seem possible. If not for Thompson waking up during the stanza, Golden State might have been in serious trouble.
In the end, it was the persona non grata who closed the door. What began as essentially a festival of Durant hatred was closed down by Durant’s brilliance. He checked into the game with 4:16 left and 5 seconds on the shot clock. Off baseline out of bounds, Durant sprang free and nailed a midrange jumper. On the next possession, with Westbrook backing off and Green begging him to shoot within earshot, Durant let sail a 28-footer that hit its mark. Timeout, 19-point lead, crisis averted.
It was a vigorously contested, if not entirely close affair, an odd kind of game that felt separated by a point when the lead was really double digits. All that yearning from the crowd may have been cathartic, but like Westbrook’s life force-spending efforts, it could add up to only so much. In an arena replete with people who wanted Durant to feel guilt, to feel shame or at least to feel loss, he again determined his destiny.
After the game, Durant was questioned on being called “cupcake.” He replied, “I’ve been called worse in my life. I was counted out before I was even born. Ain’t nothing new.”
As Durant made his way toward the hallway exit, Green shouted through a grin, “Bye, Cupcake!” Durant beamed back at him.
On Saturday night, it was better to be the dessert than the deserted.