The game between the Golden State Warriors and their rival Oklahoma City Thunder shouldn’t be this much of a draw. Regardless of whether these teams could meet in the Western Conference Playoffs, it’s still November and important NBA games aren’t played in November.
But, this one is different. This one is being played in Oklahoma City, home of one of the angriest fanbases in the league.
It’ll still be angry about Kevin Durant leaving the team in free agency before the 2016-17 season. (Because, how dare he turn his back on the rich tradition of pro-basketball in a city that got its first team in 2008?)
The kind of feelings that made Chesapeake Energy Arena an “ugly atmosphere,” according to head coach Steve Kerr, don’t dissipate quickly. The Thunder starting the season 7-9 despite a revamped roster featuring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony doesn’t help, either.
Because if OKC had won Durant’s return last year, those fans would have something to feel good about, something to hold over their silly, misguided former hero. Instead, the Dubs rolled to a 16-point victory as KD poured in an efficient 34 points.
Making matters worse, that was the first time the Warriors were in the state since Klay Thompson set the region on fire with a 41-point outburst in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals.
My point is: Golden State has done nothing in the last few years to lessen the “angst” in the Thunder’s crowd Thompson described to reporters on Tuesday.
If the Dubs wanted to make things worse (they don’t and wouldn’t do this intentionally), they’d hold Durant out for a second-straight game with a sprained left ankle — and dance and laugh as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green win a nailbiter late. Like they did during their march to 73 regular-season wins.
Durant told reporters on Tuesday that he was feeling good and that he wasn’t worried about an emotionally charged environment taking him off his game should he return.
“This is just a regular game for me now,” he said. “I learned how to tune out the crowd. Learned how to tune out the bullshit. … Keep it at basketball and I’ll be alright.”
But, no matter how much he downplays it in daily press briefings, the wounds of how he was treated still linger for Durant.
He told Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report that he was upset when he found out the Thunder had given his No. 35 to PJ Dozier, an undrafted rookie who has yet to play in the NBA this season.
“My best friend works for the team, I told him, ‘Fuck all y’all. That’s fucked up,’” he said. “Then I had to get out of my head, tell myself, ‘It’s not that serious, it is what it is.’”
So, don’t expect the Warriors to treat this like any other game — meaning Durant will probably find a way to play — because that’s not how this team does it when it goes to Oklahoma City. Expect fireworks. Expect passion.
Expect another signature moment for the Warriors because they’re playing in their favorite place to deliver them.
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.