KD joining the Warriors in ’16 had the whole NBA world in shock. Very few were happy with his decision, as it was viewed as the ultimate Robin move. The one who had the toughest time dealing with his move was LeBron James. And who can blame him? What was already a difficult finals matchup for James became near impossible with the addition of Durant.
The first time they clashed was on Christmas day ’16. Surprisingly enough, the Cavs came out on top following Kyrie’s spin jumper to seal the deal. If the Cavs got anything out of that game, is that the Dubs were not invincible. They were the closest thing to it.
It showed in their next matchup, as the Warriors blew the Cavs out 126-91. Kevin Love got injured during the game, but it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have been such a difference-maker even if he had stayed on the floor. So after 82 games played, they were tied in terms of a head-to-head matchup. But all that was about to change.
After sweeping their way to the Finals, the Warriors were ready for a revenge series vs. Cleveland. Let’s not get it twisted; the Cavs also made it there in a dominant fashion, losing only one game in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Everyone was ready for an epic final third year in a row., and everyone was disappointed. It ended up being an anticlimactic five-game series that sure didn’t live up to the expectations.
Nevertheless, the story of the Finals was Kevin Durant. The guy balled out of his mind, winning the Finals MVP. Durant finished the series averaging 35.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, and 5.4 APG while shooting .556/.474/.927. He even hit a series decisive clutch three at the end of game 3. Calling it a decisive game may be going overboard, but it had the potential to be a momentum shifter. KD crushed it. Even better, he did it right in LeBron’s face.
Now that I’ve mentioned LeBron let’s see the series he had. Well, James became the first player to average a triple-double in the NBA Finals. LBJ provided 33.6 points on .564 shooting from the floor. He added 12 rebounds and 10 assists per contest while shooting .387 from beyond the arc. LeBron had an incredible series. A historic one for that matter. However, it wasn’t enough to take down KD’s Warriors.
After the series had finished, there was a lot of talk about who had the better Finals performance. Cases could’ve been made for both, as it’s safe to say they both did their thing. Many believed it was James that showed more in those five games; however, not all shared that opinion. Surprisingly enough, some of the Cavs’ staff members were among those who believed KD had outplayed the King.
“When I talked to Cavs staffers about the 2017 Finals, they were upfront about how KD had outplayed LeBron. One went so far as to tell me, ‘Kevin Durant kicked LeBron’s ass. He completely dominated LeBron in the series. Every time KD needed to score, he did, and it didn’t matter what the f*** LeBron did.’ I was amazed coming out of that series that there wasn’t far more discussion of, ‘Has KD supplanted LeBron as the best player in the world?’”Ethan Strauss, The Victory Machine: The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty
You know what? I was asking myself the same thing. I guess people viewed the Warriors as the overwhelming favorite to win the title. Them winning the title didn’t come to a surprise, and that’s fair. It made it harder to judge them solely based on their performances, as the discrepancy between teams was too much of a factor for most.
I’m not even saying you have to side with Durant on it. I’m just saying that KD had shown more than enough for his name to be inserted in such a conversation. And Durant taught the same, as he was disappointed he wasn’t seen as the NBA’s best player after those Finals.
“Instead, there was no grand reordering of rankings, and only so much credit to be had for a dominant playoff run. KD, who was ‘tired of being second’ way back in 2013, was still stuck there reputationally, even in ultimate victory. He was still behind LeBron in the eyes of pundits, basketball Twitter, and perhaps most importantly, at Nike, who’s employed Durant longer than any team.”Ethan Strauss, The Victory Machine: The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty
A year later, after Durant won another Finals MVP, the conversation intensified. But it still wasn’t enough for most even though the common belief was that Durant closed the gap. However, few put him above James. It sure had something to do with joining Steph Curry’s team and forming a juggernaut. People were still holding it against him, and he was never going to get the credit he felt he deserved. That’s why he had to leave. And that’s what he expects to get if he does it again with the Nets.
Because even though the Cavs’ staffer believed KD outplayed LeBron, it wasn’t enough for Durant to be seen as an undisputed best player of the world. All that KD really wants.