Kevin Durant showed the Washington Wizards why they would want him and Russell Westbrook showed part of the reason why it will be hard to get him to leave Oklahoma City. On a night filled with hints, speculation and overt campaigning for the PG County native to return home during free agency, Durant and Westbrook came through in the clutch in regulation and overtime as the Thunder hung on for a 105-103 victory
The KD2DC hype was out in full force at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night. Street vendors sold KD2DC related t-shirts outside the Verizon Center, fans carried KD2DC related signs into the building, and some tried to start "KD Come Home Chants." Even local sports media, generally dedicated to dissecting whether the local football squad's new assistant equipment manager will make them Super Bowl bound, took notice and gave the game plenty of coverage. The frenzy had reached its early peak.
Prior to the game, Durant was nonplussed when asked about the hoopla surrounding his return to DC. "It's cool, It's cool umm, it's cool," he replied when asked about it. Though Durant was happy with all the support he was receiving from his hometown, he said he had never really thought about playing for the Wizards. "Everybody knows that I represent where I come from that no matter where I play at, no matter what arena. But I'm just focused on playing with Oklahoma City. It feels like home now. That's where I am." As non-denials go this was a decent one in city that has seen its share.
Durant was less circumspect in doing the talking with his game on the court. Though he continued his recent struggles from 3 point range in the first half, he was still able to manufacture points at the foul line, scoring 13 in the first half and adding another 3 in the third quarter. The arrival of the Washington bench unit in the 4th enabled Durant to begin to really do damage, scoring 11 points in the first 6 minutes of the 4th to swing the game from a 4 point deficit to a 4 point advantage for the Thunder.
Durant's heroics culminated in his overtime performance, where he dunked all over the Polish Hammer, and shot over Paul Pierce's nearly perfect perimeter defense to hit a tough contested 3 that gave the Thunder a lead with :34 seconds left. His partner in crime, Russell Westbrook, delivered the dagger to the Wizards chances when he drove unimpeded into the lane and hit a layup with less than a second left.
Marcin Gortat was emphatic about the difference in the game. "Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. That's the reason we didn't pull it out ... they're pretty good," Gortat said of the Wizards overtime defeat. "Their superstars made plays down the stretch," John Wall noted after the game. "That's why they have two superstars, and those guys made big shots and big plays down the stretch."
Whether a game like this makes even a modicum of difference in the Durant free agency frenzy is questionable to say the least. He received a warm reception, one that was probably over the top at times (the weatherman on the arena scoreboard imploring Durant to come to DC was probably a bridge too far), but these considerations are minuscule in comparison to the basketball and business implications that come with any future decision.
But that is all a year and a half off. For now, the Wizards have to live in the present, and the present is still pretty good. They narrowly lost to one of the best teams in the NBA, and are sitting nicely in second place in their conference. But don't tell Nene about any bright spots for Wednesday night. When asked about his good performance on the evening, he was characteristically blunt, stating,"I don't care. They took our victory. They won and we lost." Regardless of the surrounding circumstances, it's a competition, and one the Wizards fell short in.