We’ve never seen Kevin Durant do it on his own. It’s often felt like he needed a complementary piece to excel — or at least that’s the prevailing stigma. In Oklahoma City, he had Russell Westbrook and James Harden. In Golden State, he was second to Steph Curry. Sure, he has his ring (for which most people rip him, saying he took the easy way out) and he’s a perennial All-Star, but we’ve never seen Durant have to carry the load himself.
His talent has never been in question. He led the NBA in points per game in four out of five seasons between 2009 and 2014. He was always slated to have greatness in front of him. We’ve seen him have monster performances in the playoffs, like his 39 point swan song in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals, securing his first championship and doing so against LeBron James.
But it always felt like he took the path of least resistance, didn’t it?
With his antics and his social media drama, and his willingness to pick a fight with anyone that looks at him funny, Durant went from a lovable superstar in Oklahoma City to a league villain in Golden State.
Then he did it again, forming another super team a year ago in Brooklyn by teaming up with Kyrie Irving, while adding James Harden into the fold via trade this year.
“We hate that guy,” cries the general public.
Last night, though, we were treated to something different. Kyrie Irving is out with an ankle sprain. James Harden, hampered by a hamstring injury, was able to play, but clearly was not the same.
So Durant did it himself.
At the 6:20 mark in the third quarter of Game 5 against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Nets were trailing 76-60. From that point on, Brooklyn outscored the Bucks 54-32. Durant had 31 points in the final quarter and a half. He did so while playing every second of the game. He scored or assisted on 43 of the Nets last 52 points. The Nets won 114-108.
Final statline: 49 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals, two blocks.
“He’s the best player in the world right now,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said after the game.
That was a legendary performance, and I don’t use those words lightly. It was the first time a player has played all 48 minutes in a playoff game since LeBron did so in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals between Cleveland and Boston. He shouldered the load and carried the freight, knowing this was his night and nobody else’s.
“I wasn’t planning on playing every minute, but as the game started to flow, we got down,” Durant said in a postgame interview. “I told coach, ‘If you need to take me off for a couple, it was cool, but I feel good.’ And he let me ride it out.”
Durant went full Rembrandt last night and painted a masterpiece that will hang in the gallery of NBA lore forever.