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.”