Barring a monumental collapse so great that it blots out all rational sports discourse for a decade, the Golden State Warriors are going to win the NBA Finals running away. For most of the group, this will be their second title, a slice of redemption after last season’s fabled 3-1 chokejob.
Kevin Durant was not there in 2015 or 2016. Last season, he and the Thunder blew a 3-1 lead of their own to the Warriors, getting bombed out of the Western Conference Finals by a barrage of Klay Thompson three-pointers. He became a pariah the instant he joined the very same team a month later, detonating the feel-good story of the Thunder building a championship out of mostly homegrown talent. Joining perhaps the greatest team of all time seemingly insulated him from the pressure of having to will his squad to a championship, and it also removed him from the thinly defined hero’s journey to Overcome Obstacles Through Perseverance that so many stars are expected to go on.
Fast forward to the inevitable Finals rematch 11 months later, and Durant looks a hell of a lot like a hero. He’s putting up 34 points, 10 boards, six assists, and a pair of blocks per game in the Finals. Thompson and Draymond Green have been uneven, Steph Curry has comfortably taken fewer shots and distributed more, and Durant has stepped up to be the Warriors’ best player and meet LeBron James’s challenges head on.
He’s never looked better as a defender—his stint at center in Game 2 effectively swung the game—but most critically, he’s looked loose and confident as a scorer. He dunked away any concerns that he’d melt in the spotlight in Game 1. Last night, he provided the defining moment of the series when he dribbled the length of the court and calmly popped a 26-foot three-pointer right in LeBron’s eye to give Golden State the lead and, most likely, the series.
This is the same Durant who couldn’t match James in the 2012 Finals, the same guy who has been ripped in the past for declining big shots, the same spindly forward whose decision to join Golden State supposedly revealed a fear of pressure. Putting your head down and quick-shooting over LeBron James in the last minute of an NBA Finals is as clutch as it gets. Durant dropped 14 in the final frame and capped off the game with the biggest shot of the series. After the game, the Warriors were very clear: Durant wanted to seize his moment.
“He knew he was taking that shot the whole way,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “That was huge. He wanted that moment.”
“He took over,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You can tell, he knows this is his moment. He’s been an amazing player in this league for a long time and I think he senses this is his time, his moment, his team.”
It helps, of course, that he gets to share the court with two of the greatest 10 shooters of all time, but KD has been magnificent and unshakable throughout the playoffs, and he finally earned an iconic moment for himself last night. He’ll probably end up the Finals MVP, and he’ll have earned it.