The last time Kevin Durant walked off the floor in the Finals, he found his mother in the tunnel of American Airlines Arena and they both cried over the pain and disappointment of losing on the NBA’s biggest stage. On Monday night, after the Golden State Warriors closed out the Cleveland Cavaliers 129-120 in Game 5, to win their second title in three years, Kevin and Wanda Durant, aka “The Real MVP,” were all smiles and ready to celebrate.
“I couldn’t sleep for two days. I was anxious. I was jittery. I put in all the work and had to trust in it,” Durant said as confetti fell on the heads of himself and his teammates as they all basked in the moment on the floor of Oracle Arena. The former League MVP was also named the Bill Russell Finals MVP as he averaged an incredible 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists while shooting a scintillating 59 percent from the field over five games.
While KD may have taken a lot of heat for joining the Warriors last summer after they knocked his Oklahoma City Thunder squad out of the postseason, overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the series, it’s obvious that he made the right decision for himself, and his career, by going to Golden State and helping them win another championship.
“Nobody comes in and cares about the game or loves the game as much as I do or works as hard as do,” Durant would say later. “You can talk about whatever happens on the outside, but inside those lines, I come to bring it every day. I work hard, I believe in myself, I believe in the game, I respect the game, I love the game, and I knew at some point in my life that it will come around for me. So, I just tried to stay with those principles and keep grinding. I’m kind of lost for words right now.”
In a game that was more intense than the four previous ones because of what was at stake, Durant, who has often been criticized for wilting under pressure, stepped up in the moment and made big play after big play, especially when the Warriors needed it most. It’s something that he’d done throughout the championship rounds and his efforts certainly weren’t lost on his teammates.
“I’m happy for him. You got to call Kevin Durant a champ now,” said Steph Curry, who had an incredibly quiet 34 points and 10 rebounds in Game 5, but hit a huge three-pointer in the final minutes that essentially put the game out of reach for the Cavs. Curry, who took his own share of flak for his lackluster performance in last year’s Finals, like Durant, was also on a mission of personal redemption this year.
“It’s different just because of what happened last year to be honest,” Curry said. “We went through, for lack of a better term, basketball hell, in that sense of just being so close to getting the job done and not realizing that goal and having to think about that for an entire year and compartmentalize and just try to keep the right perspective about this season and learn the lessons that we learned… So, to be able to be back in this position, be world champs again, be able to celebrate and enjoy this experience, it’s unbelievable. It’s hard to compare what that feeling was the first time, but it’s pretty darn close. So, I’m going to enjoy this whole summer that, as a champion.”
On the Cavaliers side, there was obvious disappointment, particularly for LeBron James who now has a 3-5 record in the Finals. Of course, having a losing a record when playing for a title doesn’t overshadow the fact that James is the only player since Magic Johnson to have competed for a championship that many times. LeBron is the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double in the Finals (33.6 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), after putting up an eye-popping 41 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists in Game 5, but it just wasn’t enough to overcome the offensive firepower of the Warriors.
“I left everything on the floor every game, all five games,” he said. “For me personally, I have no reason to put my head down. I have no reason to look back at what I could have done or what I shouldn’t have done or what I could have done better for the team. I left everything I had out on the floor every single game for five games in this Finals, and you come up short… Golden State is a worthy opponent, obviously been the best team in our league for the last three years, the best team this year, and they showcased that throughout the postseason, and we were another opponent in their way.”
LeBron was also proud of his Cavaliers teammate, Kyrie Irving, who also competed at a high level in the Finals, especially in the last three games where the Golden State defense just had no answer for his offensive wizardry. Irving, who may have cemented his legend as the greatest scoring point guard of all time after these Finals, like James, gave everything he had. During timeouts, the Cavs trainers were working on his lower back, his knees and his quads, which all seemed to be bothering him, but wasn’t enough to keep him from putting on an amazing performance.
After the loss, James told his superstar point guard as they walked off the arena floor, “We’ll be back, me and you. We’ll be back.”
For many basketball fans, the 2016-17 NBA season and the playoffs were a bit of a disappointment. Maybe it was because of the lack of intrigue that comes from knowing before the season even starts who’s going to be playing for a championship. Or, maybe it was because the playoffs, by all accounts, weren’t very competitive when taken in totality. But the last three games of the NBA Finals were the most incredible displays of competitive fire that we’ve seen all year, and that, more than anything should be appreciated.
So, as we close the book on this season and look ahead to next year, if we take one thing away from the 2016-17 campaign it should be that NBA basketball is in a great place with such incredible amounts of individual talent, not just on the Warriors and Cavaliers, but throughout the League. Witnessing this amount of greatness should never be taken for granted and should always be appreciated.
See you next year.