Kevin Durant got his title.
After making the difficult decision to leave his NBA home in Oklahoma City to join the team that eliminated the Thunder team he lead in the 2015-16 season, Durant received criticism on all fronts.
He couldn’t beat them so he joined them. He was turning heel. He was giving up on his team to go join a supergroup.
But it was all in service of one goal — an NBA title.
In the modern era of “hot takes” and #NBATwitter, Kevin Durant was keenly aware of how the modern history of basketball is written. While the takes are ephemeral, coming and going everyday to be replaced by another, titles are forever. Ask Magic. Ask Jordan. And then ask Barkley. They all know.
“Our world revolves around championships,” Durant told Sports Illustrated in May of last year. “Who won the championship? Who will win the championship? If you’re not the champion, you’re a loser. If you’re not first, you’re last.”
That story was published while the Durant-led Thunder were up 2-1 on the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. That lead would grow to 3-1 before the Thunder fell in seven games, leading to another 3-1 lead that we all know the end of. Just weeks later, Durant would sign with the Warriors.
On Monday night and all throughout The Finals, Kevin Durant proved not only that he was a champion, but that he was just the piece the Warriors needed to solve the puzzle of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In Game 5 he put up an absurd 39 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists behind 14-20 shooting, including going 5-8 from behind the arc, and during the entirety of The Finals he never scored less than 30 for the Warriors.
But it wasn’t just the numbers Durant was putting up — it was the moments that he was able to step up that really set the Warriors up for championship glory this year.
Take this game as a microcosm. At the start of the fourth with the Cavs biting at their heels looking to mount a comeback, Durant was there to shut the door every time. Every time Cleveland came within reach, KD was there to hit another contested three and beat the opposition back.
Durant also provided the one piece that the Cavs simply could not match up against. When the Warriors were led by the triumvirate of Curry, Klay, and Dray, the Cavs had ways of keeping pace. That group led the Warriors to 73 regular season wins, but when they met Cleveland in The Finals they were still stoppable. Maybe Draymond gets in foul trouble. Maybe the Cavs go big. Maybe Kyrie takes over for a half and goes lights out.
But adding one of the best players in the league and allowing that holy trinity to act as role players in some cases left Cleveland with no room for error. The Warriors and Kevin Durant were both well familiar with what it meant to blow a 3-1 lead, and on Monday night showed just how serious they were about never letting it happen again.
Kevin Durant got his championship and was named Finals MVP, both firsts for his career. And if the Warriors can keep their core together, it’s quite possible there’s more on the way.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.