Russell Westbrook is standing behind the free throw line, sporting that familiar smug look on his face like he’s annoyed at something. Or someone. He steps up to the line and takes a deep breath, followed by three dribbles, then the shot. “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” the crowd roars. He calmly sinks the free throw to give his team a three-point cushion. It was his 51st point of the game, to go along with 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
James Harden is standing in the paint. Like a bearded ninja, he sprints to the top of the key to receive a pass, curls to his left in one swift motion, and then takes three strong dribbles for an uncontested left-handed lay up. The basket gave him 41 points, to go along with 15 assists and 7 rebounds.
Kevin Durant is pounding his chest. He’s shouting some words. Probably curse words. He just gave his team a seven-point lead with over a minute left. In a perfectly executed play off a timeout, Durant cuts hard from the right side of the floor and sneaks between three defenders for the lob plus a foul. These were points 33 and 34 for KD. He finished the game with 37, to go along with 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
This is what life is like now for Westbrook, Harden, and Durant, who only four years ago were sharing the basketball in Oklahoma City. Westbrook and Durant were 23 years old and Harden was only 22 when they made the run for the title in 2012. Supporting the young core were fellow young one Serge Ibaka, Derek Fisher, Kendrick Perkins, and Nick Collison.
After winning the first game of the finals, the Thunder dropped four straight games to the Miami Heat. As the clock ran out in Miami’s title-clinching game, OKC down 19, Westbrook, Durant, and Harden stood at the sidelines to soak in the defeat. Harden had his arms around Durant and Westbrook, their eyes like dams about to break.
It would be the last time they appeared in a finals series, but they haven’t stopped trying. Harden has turned into cyborg Nash under Mike D’Antoni, Westbrook is an unplugged beast, and Durant is in his debut role as villain. Barring any injuries, all three have a legitimate chance at getting MVP.
On November 3, for the first time in their professional basketball careers, Durant and Westbrook will be playing against each other in an NBA game. Please, dear God, let them destroy each other. If not, at least we’ll always have Steven Adams vs Draymond Green.
THE ROSTER: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher, Cole Aldrich, Nick Collison, Reggie Jackson, Daequan Cook, Thabo Sefolosha, Nazr Mohammed, Royal Ivey