Perfection passed the Golden State Warriors by in more ways than one over the past two years, but redemption did not.
As a collective, the 129-120 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to seal a second championship in three seasons avenges the franchise’s historic 3-1 collapse last June.
Individually, it’s vindication for the Warriors players, and for no one more so than Kevin Durant.
While Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green each sacrificed in their own way to return to the top of the NBA world, it was Durant who endured the harshest criticism for his move from Oklahoma City to the Bay.
A former MVP, in his prime, joining a 73-win squad that was on the ropes down 3-1 to said player’s team before fighting back and eventually falling one victory short of repeating as champions?
Durant’s decision to be the final piece of a basketball Voltron was unprecedented, but in the end no one was more responsible for Golden State lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
“I hear all the narratives throughout the season that I was joining, I was hopping on the bandwagon, I was letting everybody else do the work,” Durant said. “But then that was far from the truth.”
In winning his first title, the 28-year-old Durant also earned Finals MVP as the best player on a floor full of stars.
The historic marks set by Durant are multiple. He became the third player to ever win Finals MVP in his first year with the team, joining Magic Johnson (1980) and Moses Malone (1983), while also becoming the third player ever to win four scoring titles and a ring, along with Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
And all of it deserved, with Durant averaging an astounding 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steals to go with shooting splits of 55.6 per cent from the field, 47.4 per cent on 3-pointers and 92.7 per cent from the free throw line.
In a match-up in which LeBron James averaged the first triple-double in Finals history, Durant somehow upstaged the consensus best player in the world with clutch shot-making on one end and hounding defence on the other.
Whenever James and Cavaliers appeared to be making headway in the series – Game 4 aside – Durant was there with back-breaking scores, leading the Warriors from the front and reminding just how different this Golden State team is to last year’s.
“You can talk about whatever you want to talk about, but nobody comes in and cares about the game or loves the game as much as I do or works as hard as do I at the basketball game.
“You can talk about whatever happens on the outside, but inside those lines, I come to bring it every day,” Durant said. “I work hard, I believe in myself, I believe in the game, I respect the game, I love the game, and I knew at some point in my life it will come around for me.”
The only other time Durant had reached the Finals, he and the Thunder were ousted by James’ Miami Heat in five games in 2012 as LeBron won what would be the first of his three championships and Finals MVPs.
Five years later, the moment now belongs to Durant.
“It feels great to win, but to go against somebody I view as like a rival, personally, is an amazing feeling to beat him,” Durant said.
The diminishing of his and the Warriors’ accomplishment won’t just stop, but ultimately Golden State needed Durant as much as he needed them, with both sides achieving their goal.
“I’m happy for him,” Stephen Curry said of his team-mate. “You’ve got to call Kevin Durant a champ now.”
Having made the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history to beat Golden State last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers need an even better rally to defend the crown after Wednesday’s 118-113 loss to the Warriors.
Golden State’s Kevin Durant scored 31 points, including seven in a game-ending 11-0 run that stretched the Warriors’ playoff unbeaten run to 15-0 and their lead in the best-of-seven championship series to 3-0.
No team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA playoff series in 126 attempts, although no club had rallied from 3-1 down in the NBA Finals until the Cavs did it last year to defeat the Warriors.
And while the Cavaliers are far from surrendering, there is a sense the addition of Durant has made Golden State a much harder team to vanquish even once — let alone four times.
“They’re a juggernaut of a team,” said Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, who scored 38 points in game three. “They do a great job of spacing out the floor, keeping a high tempo and just made some big-time plays down the stretch.
Closer look at that incredible Game 3 win 👀 pic.twitter.com/EFD2cH5dOX— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) June 8, 2017
“We have to come out with an unbelievable mindset, unbelievable focus like we have and limit some of the things they’re comfortable at.”
For superstar LeBron James, who achieved a life dream by rallying his hometown Cavaliers last year to win Cleveland’s first major sport title in 52 years, the focus will be on improving every possession in every quarter.
“It’s a dramatic situation to be in,” James said. “We’re going to come in tomorrow, watch some film, see ways we can get better and just try to take it one game at a time.
“I’ve got to go home, get my mind focused and get my body focused for game four and we take it one possession at a time.”
James had 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in 45 minutes, tiring at the end as even his indomitable will was found wanting when guarding Durant on a pivotal 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining that gave Golden State the lead for good.
“I gave everything that I had, so at times throughout the game I was tired, but that’s just because I was just playing as hard as I could,” James said. “But I was able to get second and third and fourth winds. I don’t contribute as losing this game because we got tired. We missed some shots, and they made some.”
Asked if he thought the Warriors had taken the best shot Cleveland had to give, James said, “It’s so hard to say, but for me personally, I gave everything I had, so win, lose or draw you live with the results.
“They played a really good game as well, but they made shots down the stretch. They got stops and then they made play after play down the stretch.”
“You go against a team like this and you put together a game like we had where we had an opportunity, it’s definitely draining.” Irving felt it as well.
“But game four, I look forward to it,” Irving said. “Another challenge for us to get better and go against a great team.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he never considered resting James or Irving with the game on the line.
“I decided to stick with those guys, being at home, down 0-2. Great players, they always dig deep and have their will to win. And they gave us everything they had,” Lue said.
“Durant made eight straight points that was very critical, three big shots, and that’s why they brought him here, for those situations.
“They’re a great team, but I think we’re a great team also. They’re playing at a high level. Our team scrapped and competed. I can’t be disappointed with the effort.”
Provided by AFP
Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry have been an unsolvable equation in the NBA Finals.
While the Cleveland Cavaliers feature the best player in the world in LeBron James, Golden State boast something that has so far proven to be even better – the league’s best duo.
Durant and Curry have seemingly taken turns burning Cleveland through the first two games of the series at Oracle Arena, with their 65 combined points paving the way for another lopsided win in Game 2’s 132-113 trashing on Sunday night.
“It seemed like it’s personal for both of them,” Draymond Green said. “And you are talking two of the greatest players that we got in this world locked in the way they are, that’s why we’re up 2-0.”
When Durant chose to sign with the Warriors last summer, the feeling was that from the All-Star trio of Curry, Green and Klay Thompson, the two-time reigning MVP may be the one sacrificing the most going forward – both in terms of on-court production and as the face of the franchise.
It hasn’t always been perfectly equal footing between Curry and Durant this season, but the Finals have shown that their natural
unselfishness as players, coupled with Golden State’s culture, can overcome a draconian necessity to have star team-mates placed in a pecking order.
Arguably two of the top five players in the NBA, Durant and Curry haven’t just coexisted, but thrived in the Finals with each flexing their full range of talents. Both have unsurprisingly scored efficiently from inside and outside the arc, while Durant has exhibited his much-improved defence and Curry has flashed his handles and passing.
They’ve both had their fair share of signature moments, with Durant blocking a shot before going coast-to-coast for a highlight finish and Curry knocking down his range-less 3-pointers. When the two have shared the court, the Warriors are averaging 124.7 points per 100 possessions and outscoring opponents by 24.3 points per 48 minutes in the playoffs.
“They’re two of our leaders we follow,” Green said. “With them playing like that, it’s ‘everybody has to be locked in,’ when you got two guys locked in like that.
“So they continue to do that, which I have no doubt in my mind they will, we’ll continue to follow their lead.”
Everything is going right for Golden State, but by the numbers, they’re in nearly the exact same position as they were in last year before they blew a 3-1 lead.
The 2016 Warriors had outscored Cleveland by 48 points and led for 80 minutes through the first two games, while this year those figures are plus-41 and 86, respectively.
“None of that matters unless we can finish the job with this series,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We know, trust me, we know. It was 2-0 last year and we lost.”
That team didn’t have Durant though and they also didn’t have an in-form Curry.
It’s impossible to count out James, but Golden State seem to have found the solution.