SAN ANTONIO — Russell Westbrook locked eyes with Kevin Durant and pointed to his temples.
Moments earlier, Durant lost Danny Green, his defensive assignment, and the Spur swingman hit another in a growing string of threes. But Durant responded to his tag-team partner with a wave off.
More temple pointing and hand waving followed.
Then, as the pair neared a timeout huddle, the yelling started.
It was an ugly moment in an even uglier game. It’s easy to understand frustration — the Thunder got its doors blown off, 112-77, and finds itself in a 2-0 hole in the Western Conference Finals — but the boys in blue seem to be fraying a bit mentally.
It’s one thing to lose.
It’s another thing to lose your cool.
“I was just getting on Kevin about some stuff, and he got on me right back,” Westbrook said of the exchange. “That’s what teammates do. That’s what leaders do. We get on each other, we come back, and we talk about it, and then we come out like nothing ever happened.”
As Westbrook talked in the postgame press conference, he sat next to Durant. The Thunder stars looked as chummy as ever, so I’m not here to suggest some sort of rift between these two. That storyline is old and tired, frankly.
But the truth is, Durant and Westbrook are going to have to be mentally stronger than they’ve ever been before if the Thunder is going to turn around this series.
“You know, it’s easy for you to go hide and run and be negative and clash,” Durant said, “but it’s hard for you to stay positive at a time like this when we lost by a lot two games in a row. It’s hard for you to stay together, but we have a group full of guys that’s not frontrunners, and we’ll figure it out.
“That’s all we’ve got to do, come in and figure it out.”
The Thunder has been in this very spot before, of course, down 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals to the Spurs. The Thunder rallied two years ago, winning four straight and going to the NBA Finals.
But this 2-0 hole feels different.
These opening losses were both blowouts, and there aren’t one or two problems to fix. There are dozens. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it seems that as soon as the Thunder fixes one issue, another one pops up. Stop the Spurs from forming a conga line to the basket, and suddenly, they start lighting you up from outside. Try to attack the basket when outside shots aren’t falling, and suddenly, they start stepping in passing lanes and causing turnovers.