OAKLAND – It’s an admission the Warriors won’t publicly make, not now, but they don’t have to. It’s their collective mindset. It’s in their DNA.
They’re playing their next game for Kevin Durant.
When the Warriors and Thunder take the floor Thursday night at Oracle Arena, each team will have a mountain of motivation. No matter what anybody says, key members on both teams have circled this date.
OKC, unbeaten so far, with the dynamic Russell Westbrook as their undisputed leader, surely remembers taking a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals last May before being overtaken by the Warriors. The Thunder also are out to prove they can indeed thrive without Durant. Westbrook, more than anybody, would like to show the team remains in great hands without KD.
The Warriors, however, are primed for a more fully concerted effort.
When it was suggested Thursday morning that Durant is more “attached” to the narratives surrounding this game, Warriors forward Draymond Green quickly sprang forth with a clarification.
“We’re attached to him,” Green said of Durant. “And so we are attached to it.
“One of the things I told him when we were recruiting him, is that when you go through stuff here you go through it together. You’re not going through something by yourself. So we’re all attached to it if he’s attached to it. “
The Warriors want Durant to have full confidence in knowing his battle is their battle and that his challenge is to be shared with them. This is their first best opportunity to illustrate their support of and commitment to their new teammate.
The Warriors also seek to validate Durant’s choice to leave Oklahoma City and join them. The choice was difficult, according to Durant, but there are no signs of regret. Durant is happy to be a Warrior, and the Warriors are happy to have him in uniform.
And they’re eager to prove this is where he should be.
Stephen Curry, who can find motivation from whispered gibberish, would like to show that Durant’s new point guard – the one with two MVP trophies – is perhaps a better fit than his former point guard, Westbrook.
Big men Zaza Pachulia and David West, veterans who compromised on salary to join the Warriors, would like to prove their decisions were correct. They followed Durant to the franchise, and losing this game would sting them nearly as much.
The Warriors sent a delegation of seven men – CEO Joe Lacob, coach Steve Kerr, forward Andre Iguodala, guard Klay Thompson, Curry, Green and Myers – to New York to persuade Durant that he should make the move to the Bay Area.
He did. They succeeded.
And now all of them are invested in the move, even though they can’t possibly feel all the emotions and thoughts that will go through Durant’s heart and mind Thursday night. He spent nine seasons, in two cities, under the same structure. He adopted Oklahoma City and says that will not change.
“I can’t really predict my emotions,” Durant said. “I can’t do that. I don’t know.”
Durant, while acknowledging this is more than another game, continued to do his best to downplay the significance of facing his former team. He concedes he is “eager to play,” which is normal. He said he’d prepare as usual, maybe watch a movie or play 2K on Xbox.
“I’m sure he’s going to be excited,” Kerr said. “Every player is excited when he plays against his former team.”
His teammates probably can predict theirs. They’ll be fired up. They’ll be unified. They know that for Durant, this is one of many transformative moments – and that this one is bigger than most.
So they want this game. They want it badly, almost as much for themselves as for Durant.