He joined the Warriors in the summer of 2016 as a traitor, as OKC fans booed and as his ex-sidekick Russell Westbrook cringed. Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City to build a new legacy with a team that beat him, signed with Golden State as a free agent and subjugated his ego and gave up his claim to all-time greatness.
He couldn’t beat them last year, and now he is the Warriors’ strength in numbers, scoring 23 points in the first half and averaging a career-high of 10 field goals in the first half of a playoff game and getting out in transition to finish at the basket with six dunks for a personal best. Face it, since he arrived to the Bay Area, where he was welcomed to his new home Dub Nation by raucous fans who showed their love to him, the Warriors have been historically great and Durant has elevated his player status in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
He has been a target for the naysayers, the bashers and the doubters since the day he joined the Warriors, and now he is glorified after he was close to perfect, dropping a game-high 38 points to go with eight rebounds and eight assists without turning the ball over. The Warriors won Game 1, 113-91, Thursday night to take a 1-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven series.
A shell-shocked and demoralized LeBron James took his ball and went back to the team’s hotel after getting blown out and humiliated. A fierce and flying Durant was the most brilliant of maestros, showing no signs of rust and leaving viewers in awe with his statement-made, career-defining moment. Fresh from a nine-day layoff, Durant wasted no time igniting the offense, and a rested Warriors team showed flashes of brilliance and looked as superb and alarming as ever.
It’s been a year since Golden State became the first-ever team to win 73 games during the regular season, and lead 3-1 in the NBA Finals only to blow it and lose in seven to LeBron’s Cavs. This year, with Durant now on their side, the Warriors are looking to erase the stinging memories of a collapse in the Finals. This victory means he will probably solidify his status as a player as he had a scintillating performance that Warriors fans will remember for a very long time.
It took a lot of guts and very little shame to sign his autograph on a contract to play in another city with a franchise that defeated him and the Thunder in the Western Conference finals a year ago. For a man who dealt with scrutiny and the pressure of putting on a Warriors uniform, he certainly has handled it all quite well and now he’s on the way to the first championship in his career.
The Warriors were undeniably and ultimately his team on this night. It was all on him to be the scorer, the tone setter, the floor general, the go-to guy, the playmaker and the superstar. From the beginning his team was flat and stale, discombobulated and fragile, missing 15 shots in the first half alone. Like a rough little kid who smacks his brother around, Draymond Green was physical and aggressive. He was benched early because of foul trouble and didn’t score a basket until just under a minute in the third quarter. Klay Thompson, a marksman in the Warriors dangerous backcourt, finished the night 3-of-16 from the floor.
While they shot poorly, they stripped the ball, hustled for loose balls, got out in transition as the Cavs had 2o turnovers and couldn’t take care of the ball. As pesky as a LeBron flop, the Cavs allowed the Warriors to score 56 points in the paint. As much crying as he did to the refs, James couldn’t sob much but could only stare in dismay and walk to the podium for the postgame conference barely able to elaborate on what happened.
The Warriors were up by only eight entering the third quarter, but the lead ballooned to 24. Only the Dubs, it seems, are deeper and more talented than the Cavs. They are not intimidated, not afraid and certainly won’t bow down to King James.
Durant teamed up with Steph Curry, Thompson and Green to win championships, and like his new teammates, he’s out to get even with LeBron. Five years ago, he fell short to James and the Miami Heat in the Finals when he was a star in OKC, where many felt he would’ve had a remarkable career, in a town where he was likable and had given back to the community with his outstanding charitable work.
After just one game, Durant has outplayed James, who finished with 28 points, 15 rebounds, and eight assists to go with his eight turnovers in 40 minutes. The Warriors could have won back to back a year ago but let a 3-1 lead slip away, so maybe they were in dire need for another star to pick up the load on nights that Curry and Thompson shoot the ball poorly.
With Durant in town, Steve Kerr and acting coach Mike Brown insisted they’d like to get the ball in his hands. They need to give him a lot of touches, they need to allow him to move the ball and they need to let him make plays for his team. He can spread the floor, create space and scoring opportunities for Curry and Thompson.
With his versatility and ferocity, Durant is equipped to play a large role in an offense that emphasizes ball movement. It was quite obvious all season long and in Game 1 Thursday night.
People criticized him for coming to the Bay Area, but maybe he makes the Warriors that much better. The feeling now is, they can’t win without him.
Until further notice, the Warriors belong to KD.