Durant taking over NBA Finals
June 06, 2017 3:09 AM
by Tony Mejia
Future Hall of Famer turned ESPN/ABC analyst Paul Pierce took a lot of grief after declaring Kevin Durant the best player in the world after Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
Had he simply said, he’s the best player of the world this month, so far, he would’ve been spot on. In helping build a 2-0 series lead, Durant is outplaying everyone, including LeBron James, who is currently averaging a triple-double (28.5 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 11.0 apg) and had one before the third quarter was over on Sunday. He’s shooting 55 percent.
Durant, shooting 56 percent, is averaging 35.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists. After a shaky opening where he clearly demonstrated some nerves in his first Finals game since 2012, he’s dominated the series. Stephen Curry has been brilliant himself, but he’s committed the majority of Golden State’s turnovers and hasn’t impacted the game on the defensive end the way this offseason’s most polarizing acquisition has managed to.
When he came into the league as the final draft pick in Seattle Supersonics history and won Rookie of the Year, Durant’s desire to dominate was clearly visible. GM Sam Presti often told me how his competitiveness stood out, how impressive his work ethic and killer instinct were.
Over the course of a decade, he won an MVP but reached the championship round once, so the thought of the 6-foot-11 guard surpassing LeBron in his own era never came to fruition. The two even met as the top individual matchup highlighting the 2012 Finals, and while Durant dominated and was fantastic in averaging 30.6 points, James’ Miami Heat won the series 4-1 after dropping the opener.
Because of his departure from Oklahoma City and the uproar it created due to the “if you can’t beat them, join ‘em” vibe joining the Warriors carried with it, Durant has been vilified. He’s taken it personally. All of it.
And now he’s making the Cavs pay for it.
Halfway to a championship, the Warriors have an opportunity to run through the NBA playoffs unscathed, which would pack its own set of baggage as naysayers bemoan a lack of parity and champion the idea that the “superteam” concept could ultimately kill the game.
Durant won’t lose a second of sleep over this, nor should he. In fact, as Cleveland looks to rebound and counterpunch in Wednesday’s Game 3, the pressure remains on Durant to remain as locked in as he has been, to continue putting a cut-throat nature on full display.
For the first time in a few years, LeBron’s spot on the throne has appeared tenuous. Analytics people tout San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard as the heir apparent due to his impact at both ends. Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double and is generally regarded as the NBA’s most dynamic presence. James Harden will probably be awarded the 2016-17 MVP award.
Durant seemingly sacrificed his chance for individual recognition by joining the Warriors, so it’s ironic people like Pierce have decided to crown him. There’s no question he’s great, but what we’re seeing in the Golden State Warriors is the manifestation of the game being played the right way, with dominant players having such an impact without seeing constant double-teams or being flooded with disruption that they’re allowed to find a rhythm.
Only on USA Olympic teams or NBA All-Star squads do we see the level of talent both of these finalists have among their starting five, but the problem for the Cavs is the Dubs have more of it. The difference likely isn’t as pronounced as it appeared to be over the first two games in Oakland, but Golden State does have the more cohesive, consistent group.
Would Durant look this impressive if he and James swapped spots? While that’s debatable, the fact that he’s stepped his game up to take full advantage of his situation is the prevailing theme in these 2017 NBA Finals thus far.
Having joined the team that led the league in defensive efficiency prior to his arrival, Durant has risen to the occasion to ensure no drop-off. His five blocks in Game 2 carried an air of defiance. He’s made LeBron look silly on multiple occasions. Twice, Durant made blocks on one end and immediately turned them into scoring opportunities. Showcasing his ridiculous skills, he made a pull-up 3-pointer on one and an impossibly acrobatic driving layup on another.
KD, only champion of the now defunct H-O-R-S-E even the NBA toyed with during All-Star weekend, has seen his style mesh with the substance of the game’s biggest stage in order to force people to appreciate talents that have been slept on over the years as he’s come up short alongside Westbrook. Reasons for why he’s been unable to have this kind of impact prior to joining the Warriors would only be read as excuses, so all he can do is take advantage of the current moment.
So, yes, at this point, Durant is having the best month of anyone in the sport. He’s having the most impact at the right time. Those who went in on Durant as Finals MVP (2/1) like I advised in a previous GamingToday column are sitting pretty as the clubhouse leaders since it doesn’t appear like the Cavs have a decent answer for him.
Constant double-teams create wide-open opportunities, and while Cleveland may indeed have to continue selling out defensively to get the ball out of his hands in forcing Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to beat them from the perimeter with those clean looks, it’s still on Durant to make them pay with the right pass.
He set the tone by not settling for jumpers and attacking every time there was even the hint of a window. He used the respect for his shot to buy attention and used his pump fake to immediately dash toward the bucket with his wide strides.
He’s a unicorn, blessed with size, length and a brilliant offensive game. His demeanor is what is currently separating him from everyone else, and it’s why, so long as it doesn’t change and he remains aggressive, Golden State will easily claim this NBA title.
The time for individual accolades are gone for him, since there will never be consensus over whether he made the right decision or embraced the challenge without jumping ship. All Durant can be concerned with is starting a ring collection.
Here comes the first one.