Kevin Durant is so many things as a basketball player. He is unstoppable in the paint, and he can shoot from long range. His size and strength have made him resourceful on defense.
What Durant can also do is give a team a spark on hustle plays. A case in point came in the fourth quarter when Kyle Korver missed a three-pointer, and Durant had the loose ball and then he shot a three of his own to give the Cavaliers a lead with 45 seconds to go. It was the signature play of Game 3 of the NBA Finals and in the NBA Finals overall that helped the Golden State Warriors earned an 118-113 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, putting them in a position for a sweep and an undefeated postseason record Friday night.
There’s no denying who is the Finals MVP. It’s Durant, and that’s it. Yes, Stephen Curry has been great offensively, and Klay Thompson has been a factor defensively, but Durant has been the whole package from talent to intangibles in the Finals. He has played like a man that wants to win his first championship in the worst way by going all out on offense and defense, and he is playing like a sixth man that provides energy off the bench.
Durant clinched his Finals MVP award Wednesday night with that moment late in the fourth quarter. It gave the Warriors an 114-113 lead, and it helped cap off the Warriors’ 11-0 run and the Cavs going 0-for-8 in that stretch. It’s the type of play that makes a difference between a championship team and a runner-up team. It’s a play we will be talking about all offseason and for years to come.
There is no question that play demoralized the Cavaliers. They were leading for most of the second half, and LeBron James and Kyrie Irving did all they could to help them hold their lead. It didn’t matter. The Warriors did what they do best, which is shooting from downtown. With a team with that much firepower on offense as James astutely noted after the game, that team was never out of it, and the defending champions knew it. That may have psyched them out at the end.
Not only did the Warriors steal the win, but they may have won the Finals altogether. The struggling J.R. Smith tweeted “Cavs in 7” before he deleted it, but it’s hard to believe they are choking this lead this year. They are too good, and they are motivated to bounce back from last year’s 3-1 blown lead that had them losing the series and signing Durant this offseason to get that championship back. Sure anything can happen, but it’s hard to get that vibe.
After what was hard to believe, a sweep could become reality Friday night, which is when Game 4 will be played. Maybe the Cavaliers somehow win their elimination game. They will give a valiant effort like they did in Game 3, but it will not matter if the Warriors are playing like the way they have played during their 15-0 postseason run.
Let’s put it this way. If Durant plays like a player that is possessed throughout the entire postseason run, the Cavaliers have no chance. That was proven to be true in Game 3.
This is as best as Durant has ever played in his career. He has taken his game to another level, especially on defense. We all know he can score, but his defense could have used work when he was a Thunder. It’s no longer an issue. When he is blocking shots and going after loose balls, it’s a sign he has taken his game to another level. Maybe it was the Warriors coaching and being around Curry and Thompson that had Durant change his game. Maybe it was growth.
Whatever it is, this is not the Durant we are used to seeing. No one would ever thought Durant would go after James on offense and defense few years ago, but that’s what he has done in the Finals.
Here is the takeaway of this year’s Finals: Durant has outperformed James in the fourth quarter of all three games, 31-11. He also shot 13-of-21 for 31 points when defended by his counterpart. He scored seven points to cap off the Warriors’ 11-0 run to finish Game 3. He has averaged 34 points per game in the Finals overall. The impressive part of all this is how he has slowed King James down in the fourth quarter.
It’s no wonder why the Cavs star said Durant has been the difference maker for the Warriors in Game 1. The former Thunder star has done everything and then some.
Durant has earned every penny from the Warriors. With what he is doing, he is probably underpaid. He has given the Warriors another dimension with his ability to slash the basket and attacking the rim. It’s why they signed him this offseason to make them a legitimate threat to win a championship.
No one can say Durant does not have the killer instinct anymore. Not after what he did the entire postseason. Not after what he did against James in the Finals.
That hustle play and that three-pointer by Durant have all but helped him be the likely champion and NBA Finals MVP.