When LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, they already had some good, young players, and his presence made them instant championship contenders.
They won the NBA championship in 2016, and many fans in Northeast Ohio are convinced that had it not been for Kyrie Irving‘s injury in the 2015 NBA Finals, the Cavs would’ve won the world title that year as well.
But when Kevin Durant went to the Golden State Warriors in the summer of ’16 right after Cleveland outlasted them in the championship series, James and company were suddenly on the defensive a bit.
The Warriors won the next two championships over the Cavs, yet many refuse to give Durant credit for them because he joined a team that had just won a league-record 73 regular season games.
However, Draymond Green, his former teammate, has a different view.
“I personally don’t think at that point Steph (Stephen) Curry had figured out ‘I’m going to get a bucket whenever I want to,'” said Green. “I don’t think he was capable of that yet, I think he was still growing into that. Because of that, once teams started to figure our offense out, we were starting to struggle more and more. I’m not sure if you remember that series with OKC (the Oklahoma City Thunder) where we were down 3-1 and had to come back. That’s because teams had started to figure it out.
“… The reality is, we got to a point where we needed to be able to give someone the ball that can just go get a bucket. Kevin was already there. I don’t think Steph was there yet. So, it gets us through those two years. We get those two championships.”
When one removes his emotions from their analysis, Green is likely correct, especially about the 2017 Finals.
Durant Put Golden State Over The Top
Even though one could say the Warriors should’ve won the 2016 title, especially after taking a 3-1 lead in that Finals series, they didn’t look quite as mighty as they looked in the regular season.
In that series, Curry shot just 40.3 percent from the field, and in the final three contests, he was particularly bad at 36.7 percent shooting overall.
The Warriors also perhaps got exposed as being a bit small, as forward Harrison Barnes, at 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, often found himself guarding James.
But with Durant on board, the Warriors reached the territory of some of the greatest teams in basketball history, and most agree they were better in 2017 than they were in 2016.
Durant won the Finals MVP that year averaging 35.2 points on 55.6 percent overall shooting and 47.4 percent from 3-point range, to go along with 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.6 blocks per game.
When that series started, the Cavs were slight underdogs, but they looked to have a real chance if they outworked and outhustled the Warriors.
Instead, Durant almost single-handedly prevented it from being a competitive matchup.
In Game 3, it looked like Cleveland was about to get on the board after losing the previous two contests, as it held a healthy lead for most of the fourth quarter.
But Durant led a late charge, and with less than a minute left, he grabbed a defensive rebound, then hit a 3-pointer over James in transition to put Golden State ahead for good.
Little throwback to Kevin Durant’s BIG TIME shot in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals. pic.twitter.com/vES43bURok
— ProCity Hoops (@ProCityHoops) June 11, 2019
In 2018, the Warriors fell behind in the Western Conference Finals 3-2 to the Houston Rockets, and even with Chris Paul out for the remainder of the series, it looked like their championship reign was over.
But Durant had 34 points while hitting 5-of-11 from downtown and blocking three shots in Game 7 to send them back to the Finals, where it had a major advantage over a Cavs team that was starting to come apart at the seams.
What Could’ve Been
If Durant doesn’t join the Warriors in 2016, the Cavs would’ve likely repeated as world champions.
Although Curry played well in the 2017 Finals, Durant was the one who kept putting his foot on Cleveland’s throat at every key juncture, especially in Game 3 and Game 5.
The basketball world needs to give him his due for both of his championships, as he is one of the two or three greatest players of the past decade.
Kevin Durant the last three years:
– 2017 NBA All-Star
– 2017 All-NBA Second
– 2017 NBA Champion
– 2017 NBA Finals MVP
– 2018 NBA All-Star
– 2018 All-NBA First
– 2018 NBA Champion
– 2018 NBA Finals MVP
– 2019 NBA All-Star
– 2019 NBA All-Star MVP
– Avg 35 PPG in 19 Playoffs pic.twitter.com/bYRzQBRb0K
— Ball Don't Stop (@balldontstop) March 15, 2020