PHOENIX — Russell Westbrook sprinted to steal the ball from Kevin Durant and sent Durant to the floor behind him.
As thousands of Suns fans in orange T-shirts gasped, Durant grimaced in pain before making his way to the free-throw line at Phoenix’s Footprint Center. Westbrook quickly left the scene, seemingly indifferent, waiting for Durant to start shooting.
The sequence unfolded as two ardent opponents battled in an elimination game. Technically it was. The Clippers, led by Westbrook, had one last chance to survive his series in the first-round playoffs. But it’s also a matchup between two men who have spent nearly a decade together as teammates, making it to the NBA Finals in 2012 in Oklahoma City, the fledgling 23 who was tasked with carrying a new franchise in the small city. I was old.
Suns guard Cameron Payne, who played with Westbrook and Durant in the Thunder, said, “We know Russ is a tough competitor, so when he sees K, he’s always trying to play hard.
Payne added: Playing with him in OKC was just as important to him as playing for his 15-man team.
It was another puzzling moment in a jagged relationship.
Durant’s Suns won a decisive Game 5 Tuesday, 136-130, thwarting a late comeback attempt from the Clippers and advanced to the second round. Phoenix will take on No. 1-seeded Denver Nuggets in his conference semifinals in the Westerns starting Saturday. Suns guard Devin Booker led all scorers with 47 points. Durant scored 31 and Westbrook 14.
Eleven years ago, Durant and Westbrook led Oklahoma City to a playoff team led by future Hall of Famers Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan in an NBA Finals match against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. The Heat easily beat the Thunder in five games, and Miami’s experience and star power proved too much for the upstart Thunder.
The loss was quick, but it seemed to point to Durant and Westbrook coming back and winning the championship together. They seemed too talented.
But they didn’t. Durant and Westbrook each won the Most Valuable Player award and many All-NBA honors, but never made it to the Finals together. After taking a game-to-one lead, he moved to the Warriors in 2016.
In their second matchup after Durant left, Westbrook yelled at his teammates and told them not to talk to Durant. Even former teammates like James Harden, who played with them in Oklahoma City, said they were “adults” who “have to figure it out for themselves.”
Since then, each has been on several teams. Durant won his two championships with the Warriors before heading to the Nets and now Phoenix. Westbrook has played for several teams that were considered title contenders, including the Rockets, Lakers, and Clippers, but none have made it. As Durant became more successful, Westbrook began to be seen as past his prime and no longer a player who could team up to win and achieve an average triple-double.
But in this playoff series against the Suns, Westbrook proved he can still make a difference. Westbrook signed with the Clippers as a free agent in February after the Lakers traded him to Utah. However, injuries to George and Leonard made Westbrook the first scoring option against the Suns and the team’s highest score. acted as a rebounder and defender for the
He finished the series averaging 23.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game, looking like a version of himself long ago, and had the block to seal the game on Booker in the Clippers’ Game 1 win.
“When he retires, people will really tell the truth about how they feel about his game.” The way he plays in shows everyone who he really is.”
After Game 5, Westbrook reflected on Durant’s comments and gave an introspective answer that sounds as if it could serve as a pitch to any team signing him this summer.
“I see myself as a player who makes mistakes, just like everyone else,” Westbrook said. “I miss shots like everyone else. I do a lot of things that other people haven’t done.”
For Durant, this series and these playoffs mean something different in the eyes of some basketball fans: Proving he can win a title as the team’s best player without Golden State’s Stephen Curry. That’s it. But Durant said he doesn’t feel that pressure. “I have nothing to prove.”
Last season, the Boston Celtics embarrassed Durant and the Nets in the first round of the playoffs and wiped them out without much trouble. Boston star forward Jayson Tatum overwhelmed Durant and scored a lot while defending him.
And in the NBA Finals, Curry and the Warriors defeated a Boston team that easily conquered Durant’s team early in the postseason.
In Tuesday’s win, Durant was out for much of the fourth quarter and scoreless for nearly 10 minutes as Booker dominated the ball and the Clippers edged closer. As the postseason continues, how the Suns will win—whether Durant leads, Booker, or whoever else—will enter the debate over Durant’s place as one of the greatest players ever. Add story.
It was clear on Tuesday, as Suns manager Monty Williams admitted in his postgame press conference. rice field.
“We have to figure out a way to get him into space so he can catch the ball and go,” Williams said.
After the game, Westbrook exchanged long hugs with Suns players and coaches on the court, but didn’t reach Durant. Instead, Westbrook left the court, raised one hand to the fan and exited, while Durant gave a televised interview on the other side of the court.