The NBA doesn’t provide many must-see games in early November, but Thursday’s TNT showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder at ORACLE Arena certainly fits the bill. The 10:30 p.m. ET tip-off marks the first time in their NBA careers that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be on the same court as opponents.
“Emotionally, I do believe that both of them have to have some hurt feelings,” Hall of Famer and two-time NBA champion Isiah Thomas said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “They came into the league very early, when they both were young, and they went through some very difficult times. I just think that those three guys – and I’m going to go back to the three guys in terms of Harden, Westbrook and Durant – arguably we were watching three of the best perimeter players to every play on the same team. There’s been dynamic duos, but there’s never been a threesome out on the perimeter like those three that I can recall or I can remember.”
Harden was traded to Houston in 2012, while Durant signed with Golden State in July.
“When they broke up with Harden, I thought it was very emotional also,” Thomas said. “And Durant leaving Westbrook, I just look back and I say, when you’re 19 and 20 years old, everybody’s sitting on the couch playing video games. None of you really have a girlfriend or anyone that you’re attached to at that time. But when the girlfriend comes in your life or you get married and you start having kids, your responsibilities change and your friendships change and your relationships change. And the guys who are single and hanging out on the couch – you can’t do that no more. So I look at those three as they matured and as they got older, they got different responsibilities and the relationships change. We as fans, analysts and everyone else, we have to find a way to see past the jersey number and realize that these are real, total human beings with full lives.”
Durant is averaging 28.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.0 steals and 1.5 blocks for Golden State (3-1), while Westbrook is averaging an absurd 37.8 points, 10.0 assists, 10.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals for Oklahoma City (4-0).
While many NBA analysts said in the preseason that Westbrook could average a triple-double, Thomas disagreed – and still does.
“I think the way the game is and the amount of energy he would have to put forth to average that – that means every night he would do that and a little better, or the night that he didn’t do it, he would make up for it,” Thomas said. “To do that for 82 games, I just doubt if anyone can ever do that with the way the game is today, the athletes that we have and everything else. He may be able to.”
Westbrook has scored 32+ points in every game this season, including a season-high 51 in a 113-110 win over Phoenix last Friday. That said, Westbrook shot just 17-of-44 (38.6 percent) from the floor that night.
“We marveled at the 51-point production that he had, but back in the day, if somebody took 44 shots and they wasn’t hot and you were 17-for-44 and you were just trying to get hot, you would have a problem in the locker room,” Thomas said, amused. “You would have a problem in the locker room.”
Still, Westbrook certainly isn’t the first player to put up a lot of points – and bricks – in a win. From Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant, the volume shooter has become a staple of the NBA game.
“Jordan (proved) everyone wrong because he was the first one, if I can remember correctly, as a superstar of a team to win a championship being a volume shooter,” Thomas said. “Back then, it was all about sharing, and he was the one that started putting up 30, 32 shots a night. People were arguing and debating if you could win a championship that way. Well, he proved them wrong because he won six that way.”