With a neurosurgeon’s precision, Kevin Durant gutted the Cleveland Cavaliers brain and heart, ruthlessly separating them from the body. On stage for the world audience to see, it wasn’t the Kevin Durant of his MVP year or KD of last year’s NBA Finals. No. Last night he wore the robe of assassin. A champion and a basketball intellectual, Durant did the math in his head. A Warriors win would end the series. A Warriors loss would change the series. Kevin Durant was the decider.
The narrative that will be written and dissected long after this year passes into memory is that the defending NBA Champions demoralized a Cleveland Cavaliers team that is LeBron James heavy but light just about everywhere else. They took advantage. It wasn’t as ruthless as taking candy from a child but it was deliberate and relentless how the Warriors ran over the Cavaliers.
In a pressure test, it was an emotionless and clinical Durant who was ready to meet the moment, slaying everything on the court with his Warriors truth. In his prolific best, he set himself up for back-to-back Finals MVP’s . It legitimizes everything about Durant’s introduction into championship culture. A team’s star has to carry that team in the biggest moments of ginormous moments.
Durant may seem timid at times and inconsistent and happy to be in the shadows but he is still Kevin Durant. There is no match for him when he is intent on a slaughter, when his mind is right. He creates nightmares; Cleveland is fully aware. This happened last year too.
LeBron James, who doesn’t traffic in fake news, understands Durant is the difference maker. James is an extraordinary athlete freak of nature, at the top of the NBA ecosystem, a two way player who can decide games. But when he has to go it alone, the calculus is a burden he cannot always overcome. LeBron has to be brilliant every night.
If a 51 point performance can’t win a Finals game, it’s proof of the inequality the NBA’s best player must deal with. Having James brilliance juxtaposed against Durant’s brilliance, game after game after game, is more than a challenge. Two lights that are bright. One’s going to burn out faster than the other. It is uphill work. It is exhausting. How can you not feel that knife in the heart with a 30 foot three that ices the game?
Before this series started, and because we are prisoners of the last thing we just saw, Kevin Durant had to disprove a negative. With this series as evidence, last night in particular, there isn’t an argument to be had that Kevin Durant is not the second best player in the NBA. Because he has such a superlative surrounding core, it’s easy to forget how simply stunning he is as an offensive talent. His length, scoring, competitiveness, focus, when all are working symmetrically, elevate him to a place defenders just cannot reach or stop. But because he doesn’t display that every night, because he doesn’t have to, because the best defender of Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant, because he doesn’t reach expectations in the exact way we have seen them reached before (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan) Kevin Durant goes through a series of questions about Kevin Durant. There is many a moment where he leads with passivity.
Last night was not one of them. You need your best player to produce on the road in the playoffs, to carry the team, to create calmness, to exude an energy that everyone else can benefit from. Kevin Durant is the best player on the Warriors, the best talent. He is not the most important player on the Warriors. The offense isn’t designed around Kevin Durant. Because there is that high and low regarding Durant, he sometimes blends into the superstar clique, not asserting himself every single game like he did in Oklahoma City.
The definition of a superstar is fluid. It depends on who is doing the talking. It depends on confirmation bias. We have views of players, opinions laced in subjectivity based upon our own innate definitions. We expect stars to fit our opinion and we make excuses when they don’t to justify what we think we know. But the truth is more subtle than that. The truth is a NBA Finals game on the road when the supporting cast is struggling in the offense. Superstar A then becomes the story and the show. He ends it by making basket after basket after basket. Sick three. Regular three. Midrange. Expressionless. Serious. Ready for title number two.
KD in the nick of time.