By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY – At 1:15 a.m., Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors made their way into Oklahoma City. After all the talk, preamble and questions, the day Thunder fans have been waiting for finally arrived. They have Durant back in their backyard.
With a build up like no other regular season game since the first game the Thunder ever played in Oklahoma City, tonight’s confrontation between Golden State and Oklahoma City isn’t just another day on the schedule. The biggest question on anyone’s mind seems to be how should Thunder fans treat their former hero.
“Obviously, Kevin’s done a lot for Oklahoma City and our team when he was here, so it’s kinda up to them,” Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook said. “It doesn’t really matter to me one way or another. It’s a basketball game, and we’ve gotta go out and compete.”
Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. central at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. It is being broadcast live on ESPN/ABC, which has given the game a playoff style treatment.
But they are not the only ones. According to Thunder officials, the media credential list compares to recent Western Conference Finals.
Since the day the 2016-17 NBA schedule was released, this contest has been circled on almost every calender through the league. That includes Durant, who knows his welcome will be slightly different than the ones he got when he wore a Thunder uniform for eight seasons.
“As an opposing player, I know how fans are,” Durant told ESPN’s Marc Stein. “I know what’s important to them and their team. It’s way more important than just one player. But I have so many great memories there. It’s something that always going to be part of me until I die. I’m not going in there acting like I’m going to be praised. I know how it is.”
The Thunder are doing their best to try and down play the significance of the game. But even Nick Collison, who teamed with Durant for nine years, still remembers how he felt that July 4 day when Durant made his announcement .
“I would just say disappointment,” Collison said. “We wanted to get our team back. We felt like we could win a championship. We had a lot of success here. So definitely disappointment.”
After tonight’s game, will the disappointment, anger and in some cases sadness, be out of the system of Thunder fans? There is no telling because the feelings and emotions run deep with a segment of the fan base.
At some point Durant will be welcomed back to OKC with open arms for all he did for the franchise and city. Just not tonight.
But once all the initial boos are over and the awkward interactions take place, a game is going to be played. And if judging by the previous two encounters, the Warriors won’t be phased by the story lines associated with the game.
Golden State won the first two games by an average of almost 24 points. But they were both played in Oakland.
The Thunder hope having the Warriors in Oklahoma City will be some sort of an advantage.
Another factor that could work toward Oklahoma City’s advantage is that the Warriors are playing the second half of a back to back after making a stop in Memphis Friday night.
The Thunder want to bring the same team effort from its win over Cleveland into tonight matchup.
“You have to be able to do it every night,” Collison said. “We had a good one last night. We have to turn the page and try to do it again tomorrow.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com