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Kevin Durant Was Ready for His Spotlight

Throughout the NBA Finals, Kevin Durant proved not only that he belonged on the game’s biggest stage, but that he could turn the best players in the world into spectators to his brilliance

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

The Warriors were up 11 with about a minute left in Game 5. Steph Curry was bringing the ball up the floor and Kevin Durant was on the wing, guarded by LeBron James. The game was out of hand, but you wouldn’t know it from watching Durant. Guarded by a four-time MVP who was playing arguably his best basketball, Durant turned to his two-time-MVP-winning teammate Curry — the avatar of the Warriors, the on-court leader of their basketball revolution — and clapped for the ball.

That’s a snapshot. It’s a snapshot of a league, of a team, of a game. And there is lots of film around the snapshot that matters — Kyrie Irving hurting his back, Kevin Love being ineffective and possibly injured, Andre Iguodala making a late-innings push for another Finals MVP, Patrick McCaw reborn as a member of the Lineup of Death, or most amusingly, Durant getting the ball, trying to take LeBron off the dribble, losing control of the ball in a tight space, and watching it fall out of bounds.

That part doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter that on the next Warriors possession, Curry showed the world how hero ball is really done at Oracle.

The snapshot will stay in your mind: It was Kevin Durant wanting a matchup with LeBron James and demanding the ball from Steph Curry. He was already going to be the Finals MVP. In that moment, he was acting like one.

Who needed who? Did the Warriors need Durant as a Cavs fail-safe? Did Durant need the Warriors to escape more seasons of Russ watching from the wing? It doesn’t matter anymore. The Warriors were already so good, they all but guaranteed Durant the biggest possible stage to show off his talents, and Durant’s talents were such that they filled up that stage when he got there.

The Warriors did not blow a 3–1 lead, winning Game 5 129–120 on Monday. Durant scored 39 on 14-of-20 shooting, the kind of line that KD Truthers had been dreaming of when he left Oklahoma City a little less than a year ago. He was an individual talent crying out to be used in a perfect system — an off-the-ball menace who needed to play on a team where the ball moved. If he lost anything from leaving behind the Bad News Bears shagginess of the Thunder, he made up for it by playing basketball like a grizzly bear with night vision.

Like my buddy Juliet Litman said to me during the game: Durant shot every ball like a dagger, because every Durant shot felt like one. Every run-stopping, Land-smiting, momentum-choking, LeBron-challenging shot seemed to have a purpose. Look at his Finals stat log:

(ESPN)
(ESPN)

That’s a snapshot, too. That one tells the entire story. Show those numbers to the most casual fan, and they will say, "Did someone build the perfect basketball player?"

And you can tell them, yes. Yes, they did.