When Kevin Durant made his finals debut Monday night you could not have asked for a better start. The “Hamptons 5” was reunited and the Warriors appeared to be back to their dominant self. Durant made his first three shots and it seemed that Golden State was going to win the game and officially find themselves back in the series. Nine minutes into the second quarter every basketball fans worst fear happened, and Warriors nation collective heart stopped.
With 2:05 left in the third quarter of a highly contested game 5 Kevin Durant drove baseline right an elevated for a mid-range jumper. The shot bounces off the rim and he turns to run back on defense. In the process he stops looks back as if somebody kicked them, but nobody was there.
Durant immediately starts limping and at that moment a dark cloud covered Oracle Arena. You could hear a pin drop as everyone held their collective breath. Reggie Miller stated what everyone feared that KD may have suffered one of the most devastating injuries a player could suffer, and that is a torn Achilles. Durant limps back to the locker room and just like that Steph Curry steps up and reminds us of his greatness.
Prior to Durant’s injury, Curry was struggling mightily on the offensive end. Mentally he was not there he did not Look focus and he was not sharp. He was 5-15 from the field for 11 points and was a dismal 1-8 from three. Without knowing the extent of Durant’s injury the Warriors needed Curry to shake out of his series shooting slump, and summon the swagger that made him a back to back MVP.
Curry was able to do just that as he scored 16 points on nine shots in Durant’s absence with several coming in classic Steph fashion. On one play, in particular, Clint Capela was switched off on him, and he was able to shake him and side step him creating enough space to knock a deep three-pointer.
One thing that was painfully obvious during this series is that Curry is struggling while Durant is thriving. According to the Ringers’, Kevin O’Connor Curry with KD was 25 points on 17.5 shots per 75 possessions. Without KD, Curry was 30.7 points on 24 shots per 75 possessions these number date back to the 2016-2017 playoffs. According to these numbers Curry’s production increases greatly when KD is off the floor which allows Curry to be his old self. The question now becomes are the Warriors better without Durant? Of course not you are never better without the best player in the NBA not playing, but if there is a silver lining to Durant getting injured is that Curry for a quarter was back to himself.
Now we must patiently wait for the full diagnosis of Durant’s injury as he will be re-evaluated, after having an MRI. The good news he was initially diagnosed with a strained right calf. So he might be able to return for the rest of the series. The Warriors may have to finish this grueling series without Durant, which will be the biggest challenge during their rein. If they are going to defeat the Rockets and move on to the western conference finals they are going to need Curry at the peak of his powers. And at least for a quarter, it seemed like we got just that.
Despite the absence of LeBron James, the 2019 playoffs have not disappointed. The last time James missed the playoffs the year was 2005 and Steve Nash won his first MVP. The San Antonio Spurs won their third championship, and Tim Duncan was named Finals MVP. Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson were still in their primes. The 2005 draft would produce Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Lou Williams, and the number one pick was Andrew Bogut. Needless to say, a lot has changed.
This year's playoffs have produced a plethora of clutch moments, plays, and headlines. Damion Lillard’s sidestep three-pointer from 30 plus feet on Paul George to send the Thunder home and advance the Trailblazers to the second round. Kevin Durant’s offensive onslaught in the first round of the Clippers was one of the best scoring performances we have ever seen.
The reemergence of Kawhi Leonard as the best two-way player in the game has drawn comparisons to the great Michal Jordan. Nikola Jokic is basically averaging a triple-double and has the Nuggets one game from the western conference finals. Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden have had teams scratching their heads all season on how to stop them. The playoffs have been no different sparking discussions and debates on what’s a foul and what is not a foul while trying to defend these two superstars.
Round two of the Rockets vs Warriors has met all expectations and has not disappointed. Durant and Harden are having one of the best duels in recent history. They a both putting up astronomical numbers KD is averaging 36 points, 5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. On 46% shooting from the field and 48% from three, while playing a whopping 45 minutes per game. Harden has been equally impressive and up to the task averaging 35.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. He’s shooting 41% from the field and 34% from 3.
The majority of his makes have been the step back variety. This go to move by Harden has been unguardable and demoralizing to the Warriors defenders, and has been the centerpiece of “landing gate”. The story dominated the headlines after game one and drew much debate. The debate was over where a defender can land on closeout in relationship to the jump shooter and not be called for a foul. The Rockets provide video evidence to the league office showing how frequent Harden was fouled while attempting a three in game one. With the series tied at 2-2 games, apiece the stage has been set for an incredible ending to one of the best playoff series in league history.
With LeBron aging and coming out of his prime three players have taken center stage in the debate of who is the best player in the league. Kawhi, KD, and Giannis have used the stage of the playoffs to stake their claim to being the best player in the league. Giannis is averaging 28.4 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 4 assists on 51% shooting from the field. His brilliant, aggressive play has the Bucks on the precipice of make their first eastern conference finals since the Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and Glen Robinson days. He has followed up an MVP type regular season with a high level of play fueled with determination and grit in the playoffs.
Kawhi Leonard’s elevated play as stated earlier has drawn comparisons to the great Michael Jordan. Leonard is averaging 31.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on 57% from the field and 46% from three my goodness! During the game last night the announcer stated that he is currently shooting 75% at the rim, 63% in the mid-range, and 46% from three. These type numbers along with his great defensive play show why he has been getting compared to “His Airness”. Leonard looks healthy and more explosive after missing last season due to an injured quad muscle. With his health concerns now behind him, when this playoffs are over you would not be wrong in saying he is now the best player in the league.
That brings us to Mr. Durant who many have argued has taken the title as best in the league from James two years ago. Some feel until he leaves a loaded Warriors team he can not be seen as the best in the league. With the playoffs, Durant is having whichever aisle of the argument you fall on you can no longer deny the fact that KD is the best player in the world. Kevin Durant is averaging 35.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists on 51% shooting from the field and 42% from three.
In the last four games of the Clippers series, he averaged 38.7 points and put up 50 points in the closeout win. In the Rockets series with Steph Curry struggling and Klay Thompson unable to get on track KD has had to shoulder the offensive burden. Durant has become a great distributor and playmaker for the Warriors so much so that, Steve Kerr has made him the primary ball handler in the fourth quarter of games. Whether Durant wins his third straight title and finals MVP, or the Rockets eliminate the Warriors KD has solidified himself as the best player in the NBA.
LeBron James has spoiled all of us with an impressive all-time great career. He made eight straight finals winning 3 championships and three finals MVPs. He has four league MVP’s to his name and has been named to the All-NBA team a total of 14 times and 12 to the first team. At some point, Father Time catches up with you, and someone has to take your place. The game continues to go on, and all you can ask of yourself is did you elevate the game? Did you give it your best? Did I leave the game in good hands? The answers to all three questions is a resounding yes. The league has the most talent it has ever had, and this playoffs have demonstrated just that. Even though we all want to see King James compete in the playoffs, the 2019 playoffs have still given us a feeling of enjoyment despite the King’s absence.
Last night we had a regular-season showdown between the two prohibitive favorites to represent their respective conferences in the NBA finals. The Golden State Warriors were able to hold off the Boston Celtics in a closely contested game 115-111. It was the first meeting between the two teams this season.
Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are having one of the greatest offensive seasons ever, and arguably they are making a case to be the greatest duo ever. The dominance of the Warriors over the past five years has gotten monotonous and uneventful for many NBA fans. Since Durant has joined the team there has been a level of dominance that the league has not seen often. Their great play, and many nights their mastery of the game is often taken for granted. The ease on how successful they are on the court is often times taken for granted. The truth is as lovers of the game of basketball we are witnessing something monumental.
Harden will not repeat, Davis and Giannis raise their games, LeBron goes for his 5th and comes up short, KD aiming to secure his legacy with his second MVP award.