OKLAHOMA CITY — All the boos, all the “cupcake!” chants, all the clever signs — and there were a lot of all three — could not hold off the inevitable.
Kevin Durant is a villain in OKC, and this time the Bad Guy won. Again.
“He led us tonight,” said Golden State guard Klay Thompson.
It was another Warriors wipeout, another Thunder implosion, 130-114 this time. Fact is, this just isn’t a good basketball matchup.
Oklahoma City is the NBA’s second-worst 3-point shooting team, while the Warriors are the NBA’s second-best 3-point shooting team.
At halftime of Durant’s return to Chesapeake Arena, the Thunder were 0-for-11 from distance while Golden State was 7-of-18. That’s a 21-point difference, and Oklahoma City trailed by 23, 73-50.
Russell Westbrook offset much of his amazing 47 points with a season-high 11 turnovers (he also had 11 rebounds and eight assists), but did some of his best work while walking off the court during a third-quarter timeout, jawing sharply and emphatically with Durant.
“I’m coming!” Westbrook shouted over and over.
“You’re gonna lose,” Durant assured him.
Later in the fourth quarter, Andre Roberson was called for a foul as Durant sailed toward the basket, then said something to Durant as he got off the floor. Durant said something back, stepped in front of Roberson, and they challenged one another, foreheads and noses bumping, testosterone pumping.
“I know Dre. It’s all in the game,” Durant said. “Nothing is gonna seep off the floor. It’s part of the game. I respect that. We should have just kept on playing. I don’t even think they should have reviewed anything. It’s a part of it. Hard fouls, s— talking, all that stuff is part of the game. That’s what makes the game fun for us.”
That, unfortunately for OKC, was as good as it got. The Thunder cut a 26-point lead to 12 in the fourth quarter, but mercifully, this thing was over early.
“I thought he handled it great,” said Steph Curry, who had 26 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for the Warriors. “I mean, it’s hard man. I’m assuming it’s hard, having never been in this position. Knowing how much history he had here, familiar faces … all the great memories he’s had here. You want for him to be able to focus really on basketball but not cheat the experience of being back here and playing for the first time. He played well.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was calling the game on television when LeBron James, after taking his talents to South Beach, returned to Cleveland. Kerr said this game was “pretty similar; I think that one might have been nastier.
“I thought (Durant) was great,” Kerr added. “What a weird position to be in. I don’t think any of us can imagine what he was thinking out there, the emotions running through his body and his mind. He handled it beautifully.”
Durant broke OKC fans’ hearts when he ran off to join the loaded Warriors back on July 4. He broke them again on Saturday night, dialed-in from distance, precise in transition and just painfully great: He finished with 34 points on 12-of-21 shooting with nine rebounds and hit 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
“A lot of guys shy away from the attention, shy away from the ball. He went and got the ball,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green. “He went after it. He eventually found his rhythm, and when he found his rhythm, it changed the game for us.”
After proposing a postgame team feast to local steakhouse Mahogany Prime late Friday night — his offer, which reportedly guaranteed a payday upwards of $40,000, was rejected, though he and Thompson grabbed a postgame bite there anyway — Durant wasn’t sure what to expect from Thunder Nation.
Durant’s day started innocently enough.
He arrived to Chesapeake Arena on the team’s third bus from the nearby Colcord Hotel at just after 5:40 p.m., an hour and 50 minutes before tipoff but more than 90 minutes after Westbrook walked in.
As more than a dozen OKC Police hovered nearby (they were on special detail just for Durant’s arrival, then left), Durant stepped through the metal detector and stopped to embrace a Thunder ambassador. He strolled slowly down the concourse to the Warriors locker room — essentially just across the hall from his former sanctuary but now a starkly foreign place to Durant — but stopped once more to hug an arena host named Su.
“Definitely good to see them, man,” Durant said. “That’s the real-life part of this.”
“I almost cried,” Su said. “He’s such a genuinely nice man. I miss him. He says ‘hi’ to me all the. He did. I miss him. He’s so nice.”
That sentiment wasn’t shared by the 18,230 in the arena. When Durant was introduced, he was booed. Every time Durant got the ball, he was booed. At the free throw line and most any other opportune time, fans chanted “Cup-cake! Cup-cake!”
“I’ve been called worse in my life,” Durant said.
“It was tremendous,” Thompson said. “It’s rare to get that kind of atmosphere in the regular season. … It felt like a playing game in the regular season. You wish every game in this 82-game season would be like that. So we appreciated it. It was a lot of fun.”
After the game, Green and Curry wore oversize T-shirts adorned with a big, cartoony cupcake. They bartered with Thunder fans for them (Curry says he traded a Warriors practice tee), and Durant seemed genuinely surprised to hear it.
A select few, particularly behind the Warriors bench, took the hostility beyond frosted pastries.
“There were some ruthless fans, for sure,” Curry said. “But for the most part, from my vantage point, it seemed pretty fair, people keeping it clean, I guess … going at him, but just making it fun, not making it personal or bringing any ill will. They want to protect their atmosphere and let him know they’re here.
“At the end of the day, it was all about basketball tonight. Just playing the game. That’s why we’re wearing these T-shirts. It’s fun. It’s sports. This is not serious. At all.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.