Kevin Durant has a problem he can’t solve and it has nothing to do with the haters and how to change their minds. It has nothing to do with giving the Golden State Warriors more because they had to fit his salary in and let people go. It has nothing to do with the pecking order on the Warriors, who comes first, Durant or Curry? It has everything to do with LeBron James, and when Durant faces LeBron James in the Finals. How exactly does he beat LeBron James?
It doesn’t matter if LeBron is in Cleveland or if he is in Miami. It doesn’t matter if it is the NBA Finals or a Sunday matinee on ABC. The end result is always the same without even knowing the question: Durant never finishes first.
Go ask anyone. Who is the best player in the NBA? 10 times out of 10, the answer is LeBron James. Put LeBron James on any team in the NBA and they’ll get to the playoffs. Even the 76ers. He’s that skilled on both offense and defense and his leadership ability is off the charts. Yes, a few are mesmerized by the charismatic Curry and his perimeter scores. Kawhi Leonard gets love. But Kevin Durant is an afterthought. He is always second billing. Or, third. The rare time he beat out James was when he was the MVP in 2014. But on the basketball court? It’s been a lot of famine and not much feast.
Kevin Durant has played LeBron James 18 times. 16 out of the 18 meetings, Durant has scored 24 points or more. Eight times he has scored 30 points or more, including Christmas day when he scored 36 points. Once, he scored forty. But 78% of the time he has come up the loser. Durant scored 40 points and the Thunder lost by 10. He scored 28 points and the Thunder lost by 22. In February 2016, he scored 26 points and the Thunder lost by 23.
Frankly, it’s easier to add up the Kevin Durant wins.
- March 6th, 2011. He beat LeBron James for the first time when LeBron was in Miami. Durant had 29 points and it was a rare OKC double-digit victory. LeBron had a terrible game, 38% shooting, 19 points. Scott Brooks said, “Our defense played as good as it could play.” Durant made as many field goals in the third quarter as the entire Heat team. Afterwards he said, “We’ve gotten better at closing teams out.”
- March 25th, 2012. He beat LeBron again, draining jumpers on way to 28 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists in OKC. The Thunder had 13 steals and the Heat had 21 turnovers which the Thunder turned into 28 points. “They beat us in all facets of the game”, LeBron said, who endured a 44% shooting night, though he had 7 assists.
- January 29th, 2014. LeBron’s great game, 34 points- 60% shooting- couldn’t keep the Heat from losing by 17. Durant had 33 points as the Thunder rebounding from a 22-4 start, leaning on Durant’s offense. “Rucker Park, that’s what was going through my head”, Durant commented afterwards about his third quarter 12 points in 12 minutes output.
- January 16th, 2017. LeBron had a bad shooting night at Oracle, 33%, missing 12 out of 18 shots while Durant did what he does, 56%, 21 points and a monster dunk right before halftime. It wasn’t much of a game as the Warriors steamrolled the Cavs. LeBron famously said afterwards, “I’ve never had a rivalry in the NBA”.
18 tries. 4 wins. Three wins when LeBron was in Miami. A 35 point loss in his second season. A 22 point loss in his 7th season. A 23 point loss in his 9th season. 4 straight losses in the NBA Finals.
It makes you wonder if Kevin Durant simply cannot beat LeBron James. Only once did Durant score a measly 13 points when playing James. He plays well. James plays well. But Durant can’t lift his team to victory. Of the 14 losses, only 6 have been single digits affairs. Durant scored 34 points in January of 2010 and the Thunder lost by one point when LeBron blocked Durant’s game winning shot. In consecutive seasons, the Thunder lost by 5 points twice and then by 6 points. On Xmas, a one point heartbreak and a blown call. Other than that, the games haven’t been close.
Yes, you can blame Durant’s teammates when he was with the Thunder. In February of 2016, Durant and Westbrook scored 50% of their team’s points. The Thunder were outrebounded and outscored from the three point line by 15 points, so it’s not all on Durant. And it is. Part of the unwritten contract of expectations when you are the best player on your team is that you carry that team to statement wins. Even as Durant has had exceptional performances, he has no antidote for the LeBron James virus.
Neither do the Warriors. They can’t beat LeBron either. The Warriors find themselves in the best of times, Kevin Durant is on their roster, it doesn’t get any better than that- and the worst of times, the Warriors remember what LeBron did to them a year ago.
It wasn’t that long ago that the title was fully in the Warriors grasp. Then, LeBron James (and Kyrie Irving) yanked history out the Warriors hands. LeBron gave them a humiliating defeat on their home floor that will haunt them the rest of their careers.
Yes Oakland, LeBron is waiting. He most certainly is. But Kevin Durant may not be much help.
photo via llananba