Real friends: How the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook partnership bent but never broke

ByRoyce Young Via <a Href="" Title="espn" Class="espn_sc_byline">espn </a>
May 12, 2016, 1:35 PM

&#151; -- KEVIN DURANT'S GAME-TYING 3-pointer had barely passed through the bottom of the net before Russell Westbrook was racing toward him.

As Gregg Popovich signaled for a timeout with eight minutes to play in Tuesday's Game 5 between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, Westbrook dropped into a crouch, unleashed one of his trademark snarls and thumped Durant across the chest.

"It's winning time!" Westbrook yelled at Durant. "It's your time!"

The rest of the game, however, was Westbrook's time. Durant missed both of his attempts in the final eight minutes, but Westbrook went 3-for-8, including an and-1 layup with six seconds remaining to seal the Thunder win.

"Russ was a maniac tonight keeping us in it," Durant said afterward.

Throughout their eight years together, it has often seemed -- at least from the outside -- as if the Thunder's title hopes were torn between one or the other.

Durant's shot or Westbrook's shot. Durant's scoring title or Westbrook's scoring title. Durant's team or Westbrook's team.

The Thunder buddies have both ranked in the top 10 in player efficiency rating in each of the past six seasons, but having two elite players with different approaches has often been painted as more of a curse than a blessing. How can you satisfy two of the best scorers in the NBA with one ball?

Durant and Westbrook recognize their differences, but they see them as the counterbalances they need on the court.

"We've worked together for so long, been two of the best players in the league for eight years," Durant said. "What makes us great together is whatever area I'm lacking in, he picks me up. Whatever area he's lacking in, I pick him up. That's what complements each other. It shouldn't be about who's better, or who does this better.

"When I need someone to be that rah-rah-get-it-off-your-chest type of guy, that's who I go to. When he needs someone to be like, 'Russ, calm down, it's all good, move past it,' he comes to me. It kind of works out perfectly."

That's certainly the case right now. As Durant's free agency looms in the background, the Thunder are up 3-2 on the mighty Spurs in the conference semifinals with a chance to close out perhaps their greatest series win to date at home in Thursday's Game 6 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

But the process the Durant-Westbrook partnership took to get here wasn't always so simple.

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