The marquee matchup of the opening round of the playoffs has to be Celtics-Nets. The Nets are way better than a 7-seed, and this easily could’ve been a conference finals matchup.
That final sequence was just electric:
However, a lot of people on social media noticed that one player in particular on the Nets wasn’t doing a whole lot in terms of playing defense on that final possession of the game.
KD was basically a spectator. I guess you could say he was denying that area, but it really looks like he was just watching the play without really contributing much.
I’m not one of those people who knows all the Xs and Os of basketball, but I’m pretty sure Tatum was Durant’s man on that play. I mean, Tatum was the one covering KD on all the Nets’ offensive possessions. Jaylen Brown may have become KD’s man once he essentially switched places with Tatum, but the fact is that Tatum was able to sneak down from beyond the three-point line and nobody picked him up at all until he was essentially in the restricted area. And even then, Kyrie was clearly not aware of him until it was too late. You want to know why Kyrie was where he was, basically playing rim protector? Because nobody else was there. Claxton and Bruce Brown were on the ground on the far sideline after having sold out to challenge the potential Marcus Smart jumper that turned out to be a pump fake.
Goran Dragic was the only one on the Nets that was actually playing good defense on that possession. He stuck with Jaylen Brown and forced him to pass it off to Smart, and then when Smart pump-faked and drove, Dragic denied him, forcing him to pass it off to Tatum. The only problem was that nobody was covering Tatum. Which is kind of crazy because, you know, Tatum is the best player Boston has, but it was like the Nets completely forgot about him.
And so, this is where we have to hold KD accountable. It wasn’t just the last possession of the game where he dropped the ball. He had more field goal attempts than points in this game. He bricked a contested three that would have iced the game on the Nets’ final possession.
The man was 9-24 (1-5 from three) for 23 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, with 6 turnovers. He was a -13. And yet because Kyrie was playing so out-of-his-mind good, the Nets had a chance to win that game. Kyrie was 12-20 from the floor including 6-10 from three for 39 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and only 3 TOs for a +6 overall when he was on the floor. Kyrie went supernova in that game, and it was almost enough to overcome KD’s poor game.
I think it’s a damn shame that Kyrie’s performance was wasted in that game. Kyrie had one of the best playoff games I’ve ever seen, all things considered. When you think about how he was constantly going back and forth with the crowd, and they were hissing and heckling him every time he touched the ball (at one point there was a very loud “KYRIE SUCKS!” chant), it’s really impressive that Kyrie had such a good game. That crowd wanted him to fail so badly, and they were ready to erupt the second he stumbled, but he just didn’t. He had so much pressure on him. He put his money where his mouth was. It was one of the most hostile environments for a player to ever face, and Kyrie delivered he still came up huge.
And unfortunately, KD was the main reason the Nets squandered Kyrie’s Game 1 masterpiece.
KD was not clutch in Game 2 with his legacy on the line, either. It looked for a while like Seth Curry, Bruce Brown and Goran Dragic were going to bail him out, but then Brooklyn completely imploded in the 4th quarter. That’s when your stars have to take over, but Brooklyn’s stars crumbled. Kyrie was rough in Game 2, but he somewhat gets a pass because of how good he was in Game 1. KD, on the other hand, was bad in both games.
KD was 0-10 from the floor with 4 turnovers in the second half of Game 2. If not for the 20 free throw attempts he had in the game, he wasn’t doing a thing. Every time he touched the ball it was a disaster.
This man went 4-17 in the game. He had more turnovers (6) than made field goals. He was a -10 in 42 minutes on the floor.
Boston seems like they figured out how to deal with him. He is now 13-41 from the floor over the first two games of the series (31.7%). In fact, he now has 12 turnovers and 13 made field goals in the series.
Boston has been doubling him, forcing him to go left, and just harassing him anytime he gets the ball. He looks completely rattled by that defense right now.
I thought for sure KD would come out on fire in Game 2. I thought there’s no way he’d follow up his Game 1 dud with another dud. I think most of us thought Game 1 was a fluke, and that he would get right in Game 2.
But he didn’t. He arguably played worse than he did in Game 1.
If people are going to call KD the best player in the world, then he’s going to get treated like he’s the best player in the world: he’s going to get scrutinized like he’s the best player in the world. If he is not absolutely perfect on a second-to-second basis throughout his whole entire life, he is going to get absolutely destroyed. That’s what LeBron has dealt with for 12 years now, and still deals with at the age of 37. You want the crown? You have to deal with that, then.
This is why I say that until some other player starts getting criticized as harshly as LeBron gets criticized, then LeBron still has the Best Player In The World crown. LeBron has Skip Bayless and plenty of other pundits that put every second of his life under a microscope and absolutely bombard him with criticism if he’s not perfect at all times. LeBron is held to the highest of standards. Until some other player is held to those standards, then LeBron is still the top dog.
We’re going to hold KD to those standards since so many people want to call him the best player alive.
But once you really start putting KD under the microscope, you will see why despite his incredible talents and physical gifts, there’s a reason he’s always been #2 behind LeBron for the past 12 years or so.
He’s often called the greatest offensive player ever, or at least the most unstoppable offensive player ever. Sometimes he’s even called the most skilled player ever along with Kyrie. T-Mac just made this argument recently:
He’s definitely not as skilled as Kyrie is. Kyrie might be the most skilled player ever, honestly.
The reality is that Kevin Durant has one great move: an unstoppable jumpshot.
He can’t really go left. I watched him so many times pull up from the left side and he just bricked it over and over again.
I’m not 100% certain he’s more offensively skilled than LeBron. He certainly isn’t as good at getting to the rim as LeBron is. And again, for all the people who say he’s clearly a superior scorer than LeBron, they average almost identical points per game and effective field goal percentages for their careers.
Another thing, he’s never been a particularly great defender. His career DBPM is just +0.7, which is barely ahead of Steph Curry, who is at a +0.4 career and who most people consider a trash defender.
Three times when he was in OKC did his team have a top-10 defense, and from about 2013 on, he started to play some good, but not elite defense. It was never consistent, though. Really the main period of KD’s career where he was playing good/very good defense was 2013-2017, including his first year with the Warriors, where they ranked #2 in the league defensively.
But other than those years, his defense is disappointing. It’s not terrible, of course, but it leaves a lot to be desired for a guy who is 7′ tall and has a 7′ 5″ wingspan. This dude should be swatting shots left and right, and he could if he wanted to, but he doesn’t seem to really care all that much about that aspect of his game. I mean, yeah, he averages 1.1 blocks a game for his career and that’s pretty good, but he could be averaging more. He’s so long and lanky he could be blocking shots like crazy.
He could be a small-ball center, too, if he was more of a rim protector and had a more developed post game. And imagine if he committed to working out like Giannis did! He would be the most unstoppable player in history! Giannis used to be skinny but then put on a ton of muscle. In fact he used to be built almost exactly like KD. KD has always been skinny–he never really put on muscle.
And I think this is the thing about KD: he could be even greater than he is. You want to know why he’s never been ahead of LeBron? Because he doesn’t play defense like LeBron; LeBron has made 6 All Defensive teams in his career and finished 2nd in DPOTY voting twice. KD has never made an All Defensive team. KD isn’t a playmaker like LeBron is. He doesn’t control the tempo of the game like LeBron does.
Does he have a deeper bag than LeBron? I guess so, but when we look at their scoring output and efficiency numbers, they’re almost identical. KD averages 27.2 points per game for his career, LeBron averages 27.1. KD’s career eFG is 54.6%, LeBron’s is 54.5%. So while it’s somehow become conventional wisdom that KD is leaps and bounds ahead of LeBron offensively, the stats are almost identical.
The fact is, there has never been a point in the last 12 years where KD was better than LeBron. Not even this year. LeBron this year averaged more points, rebounds, steals, blocks, and had a higher eFG. LeBron also has a slightly higher DBPM. The only thing KD edges LeBron out in is, surprisingly, assists. LeBron only averaged 6.2 assists per game this year, which really low for him. KD averaged 6.4 assists per game.
But KD could have been better than LeBron. He really could’ve. If he worked out like LeBron, if he studied the game like LeBron does, and if he committed himself to defense like LeBron (at least the way LeBron did, he’s not the defender he once was nowadays), then he could’ve surpassed LeBron. Because he’s taller than LeBron and has a more pure and natural jumpshot. Of course, he’s not anywhere near as strong as LeBron, or as good at getting to and finishing at the rim. But I just think given KD’s height and length and natural shooting ability, if he really worked at it, he could have been better than LeBron.
I think the thing about KD is that we’ve always viewed him as “the next one” who would eventually overtake LeBron at some point once he realized his full potential. We’ve been waiting for over a decade for that moment to arrive. And now it’s like, “Holy shit, KD is about to be 34 in September, and he’s never definitively passed LeBron and took the Best Player Alive throne.” KD might legitimately only have a good 2-3 years of elite play in the NBA remaining.
There are people who think KD is the best player in the world right now, but they’re not a majority. It’s not a consensus among the basketball community–there are some people who think it’s Giannis, some think it’s Embiid, some think it’s KD, and there are some people who think it’s still LeBron.
I always said that if KD had Russell Westbrook’s mentality he would be the most unstoppable player of all time. I really do believe KD has another gear he can get to, but he doesn’t do it as often as he should. There were two games in last year’s playoff series against the Bucks where he really did go Supernova and it was like, yes, that’s the KD we’ve all been waiting to see.
That’s what happens when he goes all-out and fully unleashes himself. He had a 49 point triple double on 70% shooting in Game 5, and 48-9-6 in Game 7. As amazing as it was, the whole time I was just wondering, “Why has this dude been in the league for 14 years and we have really never seen this out of him until now?”
He’s always been capable of doing that. We just don’t see him go supernova very often.
Quick: what is KD’s greatest playoff game ever, other than the Game 5 against Milwaukee in 2021?
People would probably say that game in the Finals in 2017 where he hit the dagger over LeBron at the end and finished with 38.
I don’t know about you, though, but it was really difficult for me to be overly impressed with anything he did in Golden State, including that game. Sure, he came up big, but he literally had Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on his team! Plus Draymond Green. The floor was spaced for him, he couldn’t be doubled, and in general he had it about as easy as any superstar has ever had it.
I’m not going to completely disregard that game entirely because, again, he did come up big and hit a clutch bucket right in LeBron’s face, but let’s be real here: that game cannot be his signature moment. It just can’t. Because it didn’t really prove anything, you know?
If he didn’t have Steph, Klay, Draymond and Steve Kerr all backing him up, he would not have been in that position. He needed to have the deck stacked in his favor to be able to trump LeBron and win a Championship. And everybody knows it.
Including KD. He knows it, too. It’s why he left Golden State after three years. He could have stayed in Golden State and kept winning rings.
But he left to go to Brooklyn, and we all know why: to prove he could do it without Steph, Klay, Draymond and Steve Kerr.
We’re basically all in agreement that KD going to Golden State was the weakest, snakiest move in NBA history and that the two rings he won there don’t count.
Yet somehow he came away from his three-year stint in Golden State with a much-improved reputation.
He was never on LeBron’s level. And yet after Golden State, people started talking about him as if he was on LeBron’s level or even better than LeBron, because he had won two rings and two Finals MVPs that most people agree don’t really count.
Should we be shocked by what’s happening right now?
Or should we have expected this?
I think it’s time to remember who KD really is–or, rather, who he was before he went to Golden State. Because, again, while we all know rings he won in Golden State don’t truly count, his time there still sort of changed our opinion on him. We started to see him as a guy who could lead a team to a Championship, and thus a legitimate contender for the “best player alive” title, when in reality his time in Golden State only proved he could win a title with the greatest basketball team ever assembled.
KD still needs to prove to us that he can get it done in the playoffs, and that he can go the distance. The problem is, he’s never been able to do that.
Let’s look at KD’s playoff history from OKC, prior to his time in Golden State, for a bit of a refresher on his body of work:
- 2010: This was the first year the Thunder made the playoffs with KD. Russell Westbrook and James Harden were rookies, and KD was 21 and in year 3, although Westbrook was the same age. Serge Ibaka was also a rookie in 2010. The Thunder went 50-32 that year, securing the #8 seed in the West, but were one-and-done in the playoffs, losing in 6 games in the first round to the Kobe-Pau Gasol Lakers, the defending Champs, and the eventual 2010 Champs. KD was okay for a guy in his first playoffs, averaging 25ppg, but on only 35% shooting. Can’t really take much from this one–they simply ran into a buzzsaw. Still, as a bunch of young guys playing in the playoffs for the first time, they took the Lakers 6 games as an 8-seed.
- 2011: The Thunder went 55-27 in the second year with KD, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka; they ended up the #4 seed in the West. They were able to beat the Nuggets (Ty Lawson, Nene, Gallinari, JR Smith, Kenyon Martin) in the first round in 5 games, and then in the second round, they took down the Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen Grizzlies in 7 games. KD’s signature moment of that postseason was dropping 39 in Game 7 on 13-25 shooting, along with 9 rebounds.
- However, in the Conference Finals, the Thunder would lose to the eventual Champion Mavericks, in just 5 games, although the series was actually closer than you’d think; Dallas only outscored OKC by 20 points for the entire series. KD had an efficient (10-18) 40 in a losing effort in Game 1, but Dirk had an even more efficient 48: he was 12-15 and an incredible 24 of 24 from the line in the game. The Thunder won Game 2 on the back of a balanced attack from KD, Russ and Harden, but then lost the next three to the far more experienced Mavs. Two playoff appearances for KD, two losses to the eventual NBA Champs. Hard to hold it against him.
- 2012: This was the year the young Thunder finally broke through to make it to the NBA Finals. They went 47-19 in the strike-shortened season, which was good for the #2 seed in the West that year and was actually a game ahead of the Miami Heat, which gave the Thunder home court advantage in the Finals. OKC swept the Mavs, took down the Lakers in 5, and then took down the top-seeded Spurs in Conference Finals in 6 games. KD was arguably outplayed by Westbrook over the first two rounds of the playoffs, but he really stepped up as the alpha dog against the Spurs. He averaged 29-7-5 on 53% shooting in the series. For the whole playoffs, the Thunder’s young Big Three averaged 66.8ppg combined, and it really did seem like they had arrived.
- Miami had choked massively in the Finals the year before, and while the narrative on the 2012 Finals has changed over the years, in the moment, I think most people were predicting the Thunder to win it. Stephen A. Smith predicted the Thunder to win. Vegas did, too, as they installed the Thunder as -170 favorites to win the Title. Not overwhelming favorites, like the the 2018 Warriors who were -875 over the Cavs that year, but still decent favorites. -170 odds meant Vegas believed the Thunder were the pretty clear-cut better team. For reference, the year prior, the Heat were -175 to beat the Mavericks in the Finals. Again, this narrative has been changed over the years, probably to diminish LeBron’s legacy for beating the “Baby Thunder” that nobody seriously expected to win, but the reality is that a lot of people, including Vegas, thought the Thunder would win.
- But obviously the Thunder didn’t win. Durant had a great series, averaging 30-6-2 on an impressive 61% eFG. He best game was Game 1, where he went for 36-8-4 on 12-20 shooting and the Thunder won 105-94. Unfortunately, that was the high point for KD–and the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise to this day. KD had an efficient 32 in Game 2, but the Thunder lost 100-96. Miami won the next three games, and KD was good in all of them. But it wasn’t enough to win. You could say Heat were the better roster, but Westbrook basically outplayed Wade in the series. Westbrook averaged 27-6-6 on 43% shooting, Wade averaged 22-6-5, also on 43% shooting. Chris Bosh outplayed Serge Ibaka, but the Heat also didn’t have a third scoring option like the Thunder did with James Harden coming off the bench. The Heat were just a better defensive team. The Thunder only had two legitimate plus defenders: Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefalosha. The Heat, however, had several: LeBron, Wade, Shane Battier, and Mario Chalmers. Chris Bosh played good defense in the Finals. The Heat ranked 4th in defensive rating that season, the Thunder were 11th–not horrible, but it was the difference in this series.
- And that’s kind of the biggest knock on KD overall for his career: he’s not a complete player. His defense leaves a lot to be desired. He’s a “hooper,” and I know a lot of people on NBA Twitter think that’s the highest compliment you can pay a guy, but it really isn’t. It means you’re primarily about scoring and not much else. KD for his career averages 4.3 assists per game. Even Kobe, who many people think of as one of the biggest ballhogs ever, averaged more assists than that (4.7). KD is 7′ tall and he only averages 0.7 offensive rebounds per game for his career. Once again, that’s less than Kobe, who averaged 1.1 for his career, and Kobe was a good 5 inches shorter than KD.
- However, even after losing in the 2012 Finals, the consensus was that the future for KD–and that Thunder team–was incredibly bright. He and Westbrook were just 24, and although the Thunder traded Harden to Houston in the offseason, KD and Russ were legitimate superstars by that point and nobody could deny it. Serge Ibaka was an elite defensive big man No doubt they’d be back in the Finals again–and probably multiple times. In July 2012, I think just about everybody believed we’d see Heat-Thunder in the Finals again, if not two or three more times in the very near future. Coming into the 2013 season, the Thunder had the third-best odds at winning the Championship at +450, behind only the Heat (+225) and the Lakers (+275). 2013 was the year the Lakers added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to pair up with Kobe and Pau Gasol, and they were expected to be ridiculously good, but wound up disappointing massively (although not quite as much as the 2022 Lakers).
- The Thunder won 60 games in 2013 and were the top seed in the West. The Lakers flamed out in the first round of the playoffs, getting swept by San Antonio, and it seemed like the path was clear for the Thunder to get back to the Finals. They took care of Harden’s Rockets in the first round in 6 games, but unfortunately Russell Westbrook got hurt just two games into the playoffs and wouldn’t return. The Thunder would lose in 5 to the Grizzlies in the second round. It was one of those series that was close even though it only went 5 games. KD averaged 29-10-6, but on just 42% shooting for the series.
- The 2013 Grizzlies didn’t have any true superstar players, but they had Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, the big, physical Zach Randolph, gritty veteran point guard Mike Conley, and defensive specialist Tony Allen, and they just bullied the Thunder all series. It’s tough to blame KD for losing this series without Westbrook, but then again, we’ve also been told that a big part of the reason KD left OKC was that Westbrook was holding him back because Westbrook thought he was the alpha on that team and took too many shots. So you’d think that without Westbrook, KD would be fully unleashed and free to just go crazy. And he had 36 and 35 in Games 1 and 2, but after that the Grizzlies really shut him down. He was 9-19 for 25 in Game 3, 10-27 for 27 in Game 4, and 5-21 for 21 in Game 5. As much as people hate to admit it, he needed Westbrook.
- 2014 was KD’s best season. He won MVP, had his amazing speech to his mom on Mother’s Day, and averaged 32 points a game on 56% eFG along with 7 rebounds and 5 assists. The Thunder went 59-23 and secured the #2 seed in the West. However, injuries limited Russell Westbrook to only 46 games in the regular season, and he probably wasn’t 100% healthy at all that season. Still, the Thunder were able to get to the Western Conference Finals that year, albeit via a tough road.
- Their first round matchup was against those same Grizzlies that had dispatched them in 5 games in 2013, only now this time the Thunder had Westbrook alongside the MVP. It was still a slugfest of a series, and the Thunder found themselves down 2-1, and later 3-2 before winning the final two games to take the series in 7. Durant averaged 30-10-3 and 1.6 blocks for the series on 49.1% eFG. In Game 6 he went for 36-10 on 11-23 shooting in a win, and in Game 7 he came up huge with 33 points on 12-18 shooting. Westbrook went insane and had 27, 10 rebounds and 16 assists on 10-16 shooting. Man, remember when Westbrook was actually good?
- In the next round, the Clippers faced the Lob City Clippers. OKC won in 6, and Durant was awesome: 33-9-5 on 52.6% eFG. He had 40 in a losing effort in Game 4, but then closed out the series in Game 6 with a spectacular 39-16-5 on 12-23 shooting. That’s Kevin Durant firing on all cylinders right there–or at least close to it, because I would say he hit an even higher gear in Game 5 against the Bucks in 2021.
- Unfortunately for KD, his MVP season would come to an end in the conference Finals at the hands of the Spurs. The 2014 Spurs may not be the greatest basketball team ever, but they were certainly playing like the greatest basketball team ever. Nobody was beating them that year. They were on a mission. They would not be denied. They lost a 7-game heartbreaker in the 2013 Finals, and in the offseason, they decided that they were going to win the 2014 NBA Finals, and that was that. KD and the Thunder lost that Western Conference Finals series before it even began. Same with the Heat in the 2014 Finals. San Antonio would not be denied. In the WCF that year, they had a 52.1% eFG as a team. That is incredible for a team to shoot that well over a 6 game series. And they topped it in the Finals, posting a mind-blowing 60.4% eFG over 5 games as a team. Forget it. Nobody was beating that team.
- 2015: KD hurt his foot and only played 27 games that season. The Thunder went 45-37 and missed the playoffs. Nothing to really discuss here. Could’ve been another MVP-level season in the prime of his career for KD, but injuries derailed everything unfortunately.
- 2016: This was the year it nearly came together for the KD-Westbrook Thunder, but it ultimately ended with one of the most disappointing failures in basketball history. The Thunder had the 3-1 lead on Golden State in the Western Conference Finals and blew it. In the potential close-out Game 5, KD goes 12-31 from the field for 40 points (13-13 from the line), with 7 rebounds and 4 assists. He was 3-10 from the floor in the 4th quarter, OKC lost 120-111. But that’s fine. You’re still up 3-2, and you’re going back to OKC to close it out. Game 6 was the moment it really counted.
- Oh no: KD goes 10-31 for 29 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists. The worst part was that OKC had an 8 point lead going into the 4th quarter, but KD goes 1-7 from the floor in the 4th quarter and finishes with a -15 just for that quarter alone. He only got to the free throw line twice, and went 1-2 there. Not good. The Thunder lose 108-101.
- But they’re still alive for Game 7. They can still salvage this series, although Golden State has all the momentum. OKC takes a 6 point lead into halftime, but then gets their doors blown off by Golden State in the third quarter. That’s because Steve Kerr is a genius: his halftime adjustments are always money. Golden State always comes out in the third quarter and just blitzes you. A 6 point OKC lead turned into an 11 point deficit going into the 4th, and although OKC outscored the Warriors by 3 in the 4th, it obviously wasn’t enough. Warriors win Game 7 96-88 and complete the 3-1 comeback to advance to the Finals. We’ll never know if the Thunder would’ve beaten the Cavs in the Finals, but obviously Golden State didn’t.
- KD in Game 7: 10-19 for 27 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, -4 rating in a game his team lost by 8. Russ was 7-21 from the floor for just 19 points and had a -14 overall rating. You can say KD had a good night in terms of shooting efficiency, but that’s a game where he has to take over. He has to tell Russ, “Look, I have the hot hand right now, let me take us home here.” That’s a game where KD should have kept shooting, but for whatever reason, he finished with the second-most shot attempts on the team. That should never happen to Kevin Durant in a Game 7, but somehow he allowed it to happen.
So that’s it. That takes us up to the end of the 2016 season for him, and obviously we all know he went to Golden State in July 2016.
The point of this history lesson was to show you what KD’s legacy was before going to Golden State. In my view, we should view him today in basically the same way we viewed him prior to going to Golden State, because, again, the stuff he did at Golden State didn’t really prove anything, and thus shouldn’t really change his legacy materially. It shouldn’t change our assessment of him.
For some reason, even though we all know his Golden State rings don’t count, we still view his time with the Warriors as the period where he “learned how to win” and learned how to carry a team to a championship–like LeBron’s Miami stint. When LeBron left Miami in 2014, he was viewed completely differently than he was in 2010 when he went to Miami, and that’s because while he was in Miami, he won back-to-back Championships and Finals MVPs and overcame a ton of adversity in the process.
But KD, on the other hand, didn’t overcome much adversity at all in Golden State other than his beef with Draymond Green. They went 16-1 in the 2017 playoffs and breezed to a Championship. They faced some trials and tribulations in the 2018 playoffs, mainly against Houston in the Conference Finals. They probably would’ve lost that series had CP3 not gotten hurt–and had Houston not suddenly gone into the worst team shooting slump in playoff history in Games 6 and 7. Then they got to face LeBron with a supporting cast consisting of Doordashers and Uber Drivers in the Finals.
KD and the Warriors had a rockier road in 2019, having to deal with the scrappy Clippers, and then KD’s injuries throughout the playoffs. But had KD not blown out his achilles in the Finals in Game 5 after just 11 minutes of game action, they probably win that series over Toronto. They were a missed Curry three-pointer in Game 6 away from taking it to 7 games without KD. They swept Portland in the Western Conference Finals and KD didn’t even play at all.
My point is that KD did not become this battle-hardened gladiator with the heart of a champion through his time in Golden State. I think he is today largely the same guy he was in 2016 before Golden State.
Before KD went to Golden State, the most defining moments of his career were as follows:
- Winning MVP in 2014
- Making it to the Finals in 2012 at the age of 23
- Blowing the 3-1 lead to Golden State in 2016
The book on him by the end of the 2016 season was that he was unquestionably a top-5 player in the league, probably top 2-3, but he really needed to get it done in the playoffs before he could be considered for the best player in the world title. Sure, some of the playoff failures during his run in OKC were due to injuries, but the fact is, that team had the talent to win a Championship and simply couldn’t get it done despite having multiple golden opportunities.
People will blame Westbrook for shooting too much and not deferring to KD like he was supposed to, but I don’t know: I always got the impression back then that a lot of the time, Westbrook went into takeover mode in games because KD simply wouldn’t. Like Westbrook was waiting for KD to flip the switch, and when KD wouldn’t, Westbrook was like, “You’re not gonna do it? Alright, fuck it, then–I will.”
There was always a sense of passivity with KD–like he was reluctant to really grab the bull by the horns and take over games. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s talented enough to win most of the games he’s in just by playing within the flow of the game and not forcing anything. But there are moments come playoff time when you simply have to impose your will on other grown men; look them dead in the eye and say, “I am winning this game and you are losing this game. I’m going to make you my bitch. I drink YOUR milkshake!“ You have to be a bully and take what you want. It’s not going to be given to you. You have to seize the moment. To win in the playoffs, you have to actively and aggressively go out and get it.
Russell Westbrook understood this, probably innately. It’s just how he’s wired. He’s a natural alpha and always has been. That’s why I’ve always said that KD with Russell Westbrook’s mentality would be the most unstoppable player ever.
Why is the lion the king of the jungle? Because he’s a nice guy and everyone likes him? No, because he’s the biggest, baddest dude in the jungle and nobody can fuck with him. Other people want his crown and his pride and his territory, but they know if they step to him, they’ll get punished. So the lion remains the king of the jungle–until somebody else is big and bad enough to take the crown from him. He doesn’t just give the crown away–somebody has to take it from him.
In theory, the 2017 Finals when KD hit that dagger right in LeBron’s face, that should have been the moment when he took the crown from LeBron–ripped it from LeBron’s hands and placed it on his own head. But it wasn’t. Because everybody knew that the only reason KD won that 2017 Championship was because he joined a 73-win team.
Everybody knew that with KD on the Warriors, it wasn’t a fair fight. The next year, 2018, everyone saw LeBron go God Mode in the playoffs. We saw LeBron nearly beat the Warriors by himself in Game 1 of the Finals, dropping 51-8-8 only to have JR Smith fuck it all up at the end by forgetting the score. In that moment, it was like, “Yeah, LeBron is still the king. KD just has the stacked team.”
It was like in the movie 300, when the 300 Spartans were the tougher and more valiant warriors, but there were just too many of those damn Persians.
KD himself was on the other side of that situation last year in the playoffs against the Bucks. It was him and a severely limited James Harden up against Giannis, Middleton, Holliday and the Bucks in the playoffs. And while Giannis played great, KD was the star of that series. KD went supernova and took the Bucks to the brink of Game 7, but in the end, he couldn’t beat the Bucks by himself. I always say this: great teams beat great individuals virtually every time.
For years to come, we’ll look back on that Bucks 2021 Championship and think, yeah, it was incredible and all, but what if KD’s foot was two inches further back?
This was the year for KD to prove it. We were ready to call him the best player in the world after how great he was in the playoffs against Milwaukee last year. All he had to do was come out and prove everyone right.
Through two games, he’s done the exact opposite. He’s got even his biggest advocates in the media like Skip Bayless giving up on him. You can see the progression in Skip’s tweets as the game went on last night night:
Still holding out hope here that the reality of KD would live up to the idea of KD.
But losing hope:
This was the moment Skip basically threw in the towel:
Reflecting on the game, Skip threw his hands up in disgust and got off the KD bandwagon:
This whole year, Skip had been insistent that KD is now the best player in the world. But I think last night, it slowly started to dawn on him–and the rest of us–that the idea of Kevin Durant is different from the reality of Kevin Durant.
Kevin Durant in theory is the greatest player in the world. But in reality, he doesn’t have what it takes to climb to that next level on the ladder and stay there. He can do from time to time, but not consistently. And in order to be the best in the world, you have to consistently play like the best in the world.
Having the potential to be the best isn’t enough.
I want to see KD taking full advantage of his 7′ 5″ wingspan and swat shots all over the place. I want to see him kick out passes to perimeter shooters from the post when the defense collapses on him. I want to see him just say, “Fuck it!” and pull down 20 rebounds in a game–he absolutely could. He had 17 rebounds in Game 5 against the Bucks last year.
I just feel like he has left a lot on the table. I feel like he hasn’t fully taken advantage of his incredible gifts.
At the end of the day, the idea of Kevin Durant is different from the reality. When I was thinking about this Nets-Celtics series and I made my pick of Nets in 7, I was just picturing that unstoppable KD jumpshot with the unblockable release. Sure, Boston has the league’s best defense, but this is Kevin Durant we’re talking about. The guy is unguardable!
He’s unguardable–in theory.
You know who Kevin Durant is? He’s the Aaron Rodgers of the NBA.
I think that’s the perfect analogy.
LeBron is the Tom Brady of the NBA, KD is the Aaron Rodgers of the NBA.
Every year, it’s like, “Why can’t the Packers win the Super Bowl? They have the best quarterback in the league, he’s the most efficient passer ever, he has arguably the best arm ever. What is stopping the Packers from winning it all this year?”
And then reality kicks in: Rodgers just doesn’t get it done in the playoffs for some reason or another.
Are there valid excuses? Sure. But eventually you get to a point where the excuses for not getting it done begin to significantly outweigh the actual, tangible results.
Both KD and Rodgers still have time to re-write their legacies. KD can do it in this series against Boston. If he turns things around, starts playing at a superstar level, and somehow finds a way to win this series, then KD has a chance to change his legacy.
But if he doesn’t; if Boston closes this thing out and sends Brooklyn home, then the verdict on KD will be that much closer to being etched in stone: all the talent in the world, but didn’t win anywhere near as much as he could’ve.