Kevin Durant told his mom he would win an NBA title when he was eight years old, and he became the best player in the NBA along the way.
Durant was widely criticized for leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for the already supremely talented Golden State Warriors last summer. He was accused of attempting to ride Stephen Curry’s coattails to the NBA championship that had eluded him, that he simply wanted to play third fiddle on a team that was coming off a 73-win season and a narrow defeat in the NBA Finals.
All of that noise surrounded Durant’s 2016-17 NBA season, and in a brilliant five-game performance in the 2017 NBA Finals, the superstar forward silenced all of it.
The Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 129-120 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena on Monday to claim their second NBA title in three seasons. But that seemed like a foregone conclusion long ago.
Golden State exacted its revenge on the Cavaliers, avenging their 3-1 collapse from a season ago, but this was always about Durant.
The four-time league scoring champion and former NBA MVP added NBA champion and NBA Finals MVP to his resume Monday when he poured in 39 points on 14-of-20 shooting. Durant became the fourth Finals MVP to average 35 or more points per game, joining Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal and Micheal Jordan.
A year ago, the Warriors were devastated when the best player on the planet, LeBron James, took their title from them. A year later, Durant returned them to the mountain top, while crafting a masterpiece performance and surpassing James as the best player in the world.
That’s not to knock James. He became the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double and was masterful in defeat. James and Kyrie Irving emptied every bullet in their cartridge, but Durant just kept coming.
Durant didn’t just join a team that won 73 games a year ago and coast to an NBA championship. He didn’t just fit in and play a supporting role to finally hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. He didn’t move to the Bay Area and fade into the shadow of Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Rather, Durant and the Warriors cast a shadow over the NBA that won’t be disappearing for the foreseeable future.
Durant led the Warriors. He took a 73-win team and made them champions again by outplaying the man who has dominated the NBA for the last decade.
The star forward made a statement with a 38-point, zero turnover performance in Game 1 that showed James how difficult it would be to overcome the Durant-led Warriors. He followed that up with a 33-point, 15-rebound showing in Game 2, and his personal 7-0 run rescued the Warriors late in Game 3.
And then there was Game 5. With the Warriors facing a golden opportunity to erase the 3-1 ghosts that had haunted them for the past year, Durant carved up the Cavaliers with a lethal dose of outside shooting, tenacious defense and unquestioned efficiency to vanquish his chief rival.
Durant scored 30 points in all five Finals games. He shot 56 percent from the field for the series while leading the Warriors in blocks and rebounds.
He chose to play with the team-centric Warriors over the iso-centric Thunder, and became the unquestioned leader of what might be the best team in NBA history. Durant took his game to another level in the Bay Area, and he took the Warriors to rarified air right along with him.
As Durant dribbled out the clock and bathed in confetti at Oracle Arena on Monday night, his critics could do nothing but stare in amazement and welcome in a new era of the NBA.
Thumbnail photo via Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports Images