Kevin Durant’s return to Oklahoma City on Saturday lived up to the hype, as far as crowd and team reactions went.
Though the Golden State Warriors soundly beat the Thunder, the crowd was hostile to their former superstar, while Durant jawed with Russell Westbrook and forward Andre Roberson on separate occasions.
And while some would think that both teams would want the superstars to stay away from each other for fear they would be distracted by the matchup, Warriors coach Steve Kerr reportedly encouraged it.
According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, in the third quarter, Kerr told Durant to guard Westbrook, believing that Westbrook would become so hellbent on beating Durant one-on-one, it would hurt the Thunder’s offence.
And for the most part, he was right. While Westbrook finished 47 points and eight assists, he also had 11 turnovers. According to ESPN, on the seven plays Durant guarded Westbrook, Westbrook went 2-of-5 from the field for eight points with one turnover.
One some occasions, it went great for Westbrook.
Other times, it led to Westbrook taking heat-check three-pointers with 17 seconds left on the shot clock.
It’s a ruthless ploy by Kerr to pit Westbrook’s emotions against him. It also could have risked throwing off Durant, having to guard an explosive scorer like Westbrook, his former teammate, while visiting the arena he called home for eight years.
However, tactically, it worked for the Warriors, who, despite being outscored by five in the quarter, built such a big lead early on that they were able to maintain a sizable advantage through the quarter. Sure, Westbrook hit some shots, but he also appeared to get caught up in the moment and his blend of one-man offence wasn’t enough to help the Thunder make an actual push.
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