If every NBA Finals LeBron James has appeared in has to do with LeBron vs. Legacy, then every NBA Finals Kevin Durant is in has to do with Durant vs. Himself. Proclaimed the second or third best player in the NBA, Kevin Durant has to remind the public repetitively about himself, as if that defection from Oklahoma City created a brain freeze and amnesia has set in all of our minds.
It is hard to know who Kevin Durant is, particularly during this playoff season where he has disappeared in large stretches of games as if he is disinterested, a narrative he has spent the entire season trying to disprove.
By his own admission, Kevin Durant wants to win a second title badly. Durant knows that a second title, particularly one in consecutive seasons, cements him in an elite club of repeat champions. It will never take away the footnote about how he ended up in Oakland but it redeems his decision making. Sort of.
Kevin Durant and his flaws came with him to Oakland. A Finals MVP doesn’t change Durant for better or worse. He is an elegant scorer. His shot is fluid, effortless, graceful. He has impeccable range and can go on a streak where he buries his opponent.
But he is a finesse player who doesn’t feel comfortable in a grit and grind game. During one playoff run in OKC, a much smaller but a much nastier and more physical Tony Allen turned Kevin Durant into an ordinary player by beating him up. In the last series, the beat up Durant job fell on P.J. Tucker’s shoulders.
Durant is at his highest basketball form when he is allowed to move effortlessly through seams to get his shot off. He doesn’t want contact and isn’t much for putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim. Only 17% of his shots are at the cup. This playoffs it is worse. Only 12% of his shots are at the rim.
Still, he is Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant is known for doing great things which is why he was Finals MVP. But because the Warriors bench is the weakest it has ever been in their previous title runs, Durant has to do more than he had to do last year. He has to rebound more. He has to set more screens. He has to put the defense in jeopardy more. Add to that, if he fails somehow, he has the most to lose and it has nothing to do with money. Durant will get his because he is KD.
But the perception is KD can be soft at times and because he has been complicit in his sometimey narrative, he has the most to lose in the NBA Finals.
Even if the Warriors do what everyone expects them to do, wrap this up very quickly, Durant has to be second best player in the league Durant.
LeBron is going to show up. He will be triple double LeBron each and every game. He is going to do everything to will the hapless Cavs to exceptional. But what is Durant going to will? If LeBron sets the bar as the best NBA player, can Durant rise to the challenge and look like the second best player in the league?
LeBron James is playing with house money. He doesn’t have the supporting personnel to beat an offensive laden team like the Warriors. He doesn’t have a second creator. He can’t depend on ________ to get him 20 and 8. Every game, LeBron is pulling that magic out of a hat and this will go down by those who were witnesses as one of his greatest seasons. Every box is checked: leadership, performance, achievement.
It’s easier to be LeBron James in the NBA Finals. It’s harder to be Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant has the luxury of not having to do everything. But then he has to be everything in those moments when the Warriors are expecting him to excel.
Durant can get lost in his own mind and drift on the court. It’s easy to do because he is playing with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. He wanted to join the Warriors so he wouldn’t have to be LeBron James anymore. But just because all eyes are not trained on him doesn’t mean he can float until the pressure reaches epic proportions.
Durant is a mercurial basketball star with exceptional talent, shooting range, an elite scorer. He wants to win so badly sometimes it gets away from him, moment by moment, play by play. He is desperate for a second title or so he says. But then, he will sleepwalk and disappear.
Because the thin bench produces next to nothing, Durant doesn’t have the luxury to pick and choose his spots. He needs aggression, heart and passion. He needs to be LeBron James without being LeBron James, surrounded as he is with superior teammates. Less is not more in the NBA Finals.
Less is not more.