As humans, we love a great story. Unfortunately, those can distract us from the greatness that is LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
We knew who we’d see in the Finals. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, the league’s only two superteams, were on a collision course to meet for the third-straight time right after the 2016 Finals ended. Certain things happened — well, one thing happened. Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Bay Area. After that, the balance of power in the NBA shifted even more. Golden State was already a champion without the league’s second-best player. Moreover, the West would’ve had four teams with a legitimate shot to reach the championship round — Golden State, San Antonio, Houston and Oklahoma City.
Frankly, I thought Durant’s decision was stupid at first. Then I took a step back, had a Jell-O shot (after all, it was the Fourth of July) and realized that I just didn’t care enough. At the end of the day, I want to see great players be great no matter what uniform their wearing. Does it impact him when talking about his legacy? It may, but that’s a topic I don’t care to worry about for now.
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Think about this: we’ve had 11 months to get over Durant’s move. Some have, and some haven’t. If you broke up with your significant other, would you spend the next year being salty about it? I don’t think so because you made that decision. Your friends also wouldn’t let that happen. They’d poke and prod until you finally went out with them, and they’d force you to meet other people. If they don’t — get new friends.
Things were much different out East. The LeEastern Conference is LeBron James’ until proven otherwise. Teams like Boston and Washington seemed like they could scare the Cavs, but we would’ve actually had to witness one of them topple Goliath to believe it.
Despite the noise made during the offseason, neither Durant nor James was the league’s most talked about player. Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard all had tremendous years and made the regular season worth watching. Russ and Harden were noteworthy because their campaigns were of historic proportions, and I threw Kawhi in there because his outburst cemented him as a top-five guy. Westbrook or Harden will be taking home the MVP this year, and we, as fans, should be grateful that we had other things to focus on when the Warriors dominance became monotonous.
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They annihilated everyone in their way. And it started because Klay Thompson signed a toaster. Since Mar. 13, Golden State has gone 30-1. Thirty and one. That includes their 15-0 start to the playoffs, and they’re one win away from having the greatest postseason run of all-time. On top of that, they’re a legitimate contender for the “greatest team ever” label. Cleveland, on the other hand, didn’t have the same luck. They fell apart after the All-Star Break and had us all convinced that their throne was in jeopardy. It wasn’t. They, just like the Warriors, cruised through the first three rounds and nearly equaled Golden State’s record — 12-1 to 12-0.
I saw a lot of mixed feelings about this matchup. The Cavaliers are completely outmatched on paper. Regardless of what your prediction was, it was going to come down to Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green going head-to-head against James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. Whichever group played better would win the series. (For what it’s worth, I picked Cavs in seven. I know, I know — it’s not looking good.) Proclamations of greater parity were frequent because Golden State has four All-Stars and two MVP winners, whereas the Cavs have three All-Stars and only one MVP winner. However, that former MVP is LeBron.
We all knew that Durant and James would outplay everybody. The rest of the guys would have to pick up the slack, and the Warriors are better equipped for that.
It’s disheartening to see the vitriol spewed at James and Durant. This is the first time that a debate between James and Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time is a legitimate conversation. There is still a group of people who don’t think that, but, in all honestly, their arguments are flawed. It’s the same angle each time, and it doesn’t hold much weight because there are so many other points to argue.
“JORDAN IS UNDEFEATED IN THE FINALS AND LEBRON’S ONLY 3-4 HOW CAN HE BE THE GOAT.”
(I wanted to keep my example PG, but someone’s Twitter mentions can be an incredibly confusing place. It’s like the real-life version of Dennis screaming “pancakes!” in Cabin Fever.)
Please know that this piece is not a comparison between anyone. However, I am a part of the group who sees it as a discussion, but it’s imperative that you only have that talk with people who can argue both parties. Michael Jordan didn’t have a perfect career. Neither did LeBron. (Or Magic, or Bird, or Shaq, or Kobe, or Wilt, or Jerry West, or Oscar Robertson or anyone else who’s ever played in the NBA.) Kevin Durant is also part of that group. If you believe that he took the easy way out by going to the Warriors, I can see why. It’s strange that the only guy who can challenge James in the player rankings would want to ally with a contender while still in his prime, but that’s his prerogative.
There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll look back on these Finals in 20-25 years and think about how incredible it was to see so many great players trading blows with each other. In the moment, emotions get in the way. I’m guilty of this. At times, I can’t fathom the juggernaut that Golden State put together. What rationalizes that is when James and Durant matchup one-on-one, and that’s something that we probably wouldn’t have seen if Durant stayed with the Thunder or went somewhere else.
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All these narratives take away from the greatness that we’re watching, even though the Warriors are too much for Cleveland. Curry and Love have been sensational, but Durant and James are clearly the two best players. And the numbers through three games back it up:
- Durant: 34.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.0 blocks, 1.3 steals, 56.1/52.4/89.5
- James: 32.0 points, 12.3 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, 55.4/38.9/73.9
Game 3 was only the latest justification. James put up 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists while Durant threw up 31, eight and four of his own, but he was the one who nailed a demoralizing go-ahead three with 45 seconds left. It was a winnable game for Cleveland and a case of the Warriors having more weapons. Kyrie was the only other Cavalier to have a huge night, and his 38-piece was the first time all series that he broke out. J.R. Smith had a quiet 16, and that was it. Kevin Love was virtually non-existent, and he had just nine points on 1-of-9 shooting. Klay and Curry helped Durant tremendously scoring 30 and 26, respectively, and all firepower means that no one has to expend all of their energy. That’s a luxury the Cavaliers don’t have. Because of that, Cleveland stagnated at the worst time — the final three minutes of the fourth.
The game was ripped from their grasp because great players made great plays.
This game was the most intense of the three. It was a wire-to-wire slugfest. Golden State pulled away in the third in the first two meetings, and they took the punches Cleveland threw at them on Wednesday night. Cleveland isn’t likely to pull off the comeback, and that’s okay. They weren’t supposed to win because Golden State is the superior team, and the best team typically goes on to beat the best player.
Regardless of the outcome, all the nonsensical narratives we have surrounding Durant and LeBron are making us lose sight of the greatness that’s on display. We don’t know when we’re going to have another matchup like this. It’s unfortunate that’s it’s so one-sided, but Kevin Durant and LeBron James are putting on a show after show after show, and it’s silly to miss something of this magnitude by being blinded by hate or a premeditated agenda.
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