Warriors need Durant more than he needs them

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GREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES

A clutch 3-pointer settled into the net to extend the Warriors’ lead to six with 49.8 seconds left. Game 3 was decided by “The Shot” that may have ended the season for Cleveland and LeBron James, who could choose to take his talents to Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, San Antonio?

Last year’s Game 3 hero was Kevin Durant. A year later, he does it again with another dagger from the same spot on the floor. No disrespect to Stephen Curry, but the Finals MVP award goes to Durant for making a game-altering shot that put things out of reach for the Cavaliers.

Durant buried a pull-up three from 33 feet to secure a 110-102 victory and a 3-0 lead in the NBA Finals, just one win away from repeating as champions. The Warriors can now supply the finishing touches in Game 4 on Friday night in Cleveland. Stay tuned. Same Warriors-time. Same Warriors-channel. Same place.

The ball left Durant’s hands, drifted towards the rim, and drew net. The Cleveland crowd went silent, Draymond Green let out an almighty scream in Durant’s face and the Warriors bench reacted with excitement. It was a feeling of bliss that came over them the very instant Durant drained the shot. But Cavalier fans streamed for the exits, heartbroken and stunned, unable to process what had just happened in the closing minutes of a dramatic game.

Durant’s scoring explosion in these Finals was due to the Warriors. So the timing was impeccable for him to break out of his shooting slump and make a gallant effort to improve his shooting efficiency. He erupted for 43 points, added 13 rebounds and seven assists.

There was no better time than Wednesday night to rectify the shooting woes that have kept him quiet. He looked a bit intimidating, Finals-threatening to a less-talented Cavaliers team, but he was actually harmless until Game 3. Then he went back to being a scoring threat, a menacing beast to a fragile Cleveland team and essentially navigated stretches late in the game.

On a night when Curry and Klay Thompson shot the ball poorly, Durant carried the torch for the Warriors. Bad nights happen to the greatest of them all, but fortunately Golden State can put the ball in Durant’s hands if all isn’t going well for the two premier guards in a tough backcourt.

And thankfully, Durant picked his teammates up at every opportunity and validated everything he’s achieved. And furthermore, he took over the game, only to justify his decision to surround himself by three All-Stars.

Curry, who finished with a record-setting 3-point performance in Game 2, went ice-cold   from deep and shot a horrible 1-for-10 from beyond the arc and just 3-for-16 from the field. The look on Thompson’s face as he appeared to be bewildered, unable to find his rhythm, was a look of disgust and shock. He just had 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

The Warriors, as you’d imagine, maintained a competitive advantage over the Cavaliers.   Yet no one was stopping Durant from piling up his points and, quite honestly—hotter than anyone else on the floor—he wasn’t going to let them shrink in the moment as the stakes rose.

The Warriors were the better team, just as they were against Houston in a deciding and seventh game, defeating the cold-shooting Rockets and, by capitalizing on Houston’s missed shots, they showed then that they couldn’t be ignored.

From the beginning, folks favored the Warriors over the Cavaliers by a very large margin. And Durant, playing with ferocity and sensing energy, was clearly the best of them all on this occasion.

So the reality is that Golden State, using its weaponized scorers, has overpowered an army of Cleveland players, including James, with a flurry of threes. Durant pulled up and drilled threes from the distance. He hit jumpers from midrange or shots from within the paint. Oftentimes, he drove the lane for contested layups but a bulk of his points came from outside, where he was dangerous and effective.

There’s no way now to deny Durant what he’s done for the Warriors in the Finals. With apologies to Curry, Durant made himself more valuable than any of his peers since jumping on board two summers ago. The reigning Finals MVP had no intention of moving to the Bay Area to maximize his talent. The aim was to win multiple championships with a ready-made team, but not to become the bedrock of the Warriors for the future.

It turns out he’s emerged as the team’s most important player, as seen in Game 3. By halftime, he had 24 of the Warriors 52 points en route to becoming the fourth player in the last 35 Finals to go 40-10-5, putting him in elite company with James, Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan.

He went a perfect 4-for-4 in the first quarter, finishing strong with 13 points. The Cavs’ early 16-4 lead quickly evaporated as Durant chipped away, bit by bit, and kept things close. He snagged all seven of the Warriors’ rebounds in the first quarter. His buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the half pulled Golden State within six.

The Warriors, most notably, were 9-of-26 from 3, six of those shots by Durant. Again being the go-to guy as the game went back and forth late in the second half, he touched the ball and delivered in the pivotal minutes.

When he won a championship last season with this team, he was berated so often. Salty fans and trolls created funny memes that went viral and attracted a slew of social media shares. A large number of doubters publicly ridiculed him, but in reality, he has once again put doubt in these Cavs.

He chose to join the team that beat him, and has enjoyed the pursuit for his championships. This is while he’s putting his greatness into action to get the last word.

Even if he took the easy way out, he’s part of a dynasty in the making and, without him, there may not be a competitive run this remarkable.

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