CLEVELAND – Thirty-three feet out on Wednesday night, and Kevin Durant pulled up in Quicken Loans Arena the same way he did a year ago in the same Game 3 against the same Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s the same way he changed the trajectory of his career to become a champion; the same way he altered the complexion of the NBA since joining these Warriors in 2016, giving the franchise arguably the most talented roster of all time as one of four All-Stars. All over the league this season, however, some rival executives dissected the potential of Durant leaving the Bay, the potential of a partnership with LeBron James, perhaps in Los Angeles.
Durant is now the ultimate balance shifter of the NBA’s power dynamic. He has stated publicly, and those close to him make it clear privately: He plans to re-sign with the Warriors in the summer. Rival personnel spent the season inspecting Durant’s possibilities, because he’s the caliber of player for whom James would ponder leaving Cleveland. It only appears futile. Golden State pulled out the stops to align with Durant two years ago and is on course to deliver two championships that might mean more for Durant’s legacy than for any of the other Warriors.
“Whatever team Kevin plays for, whatever team he chose, obviously benefits,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers told Yahoo Sports late Wednesday. “Luckily, he wanted to play for us, and luckily our players would go ask him to do it. We hoped that it’ll be a good fit, that it’ll all work, but you don’t know. You never know. But you can hope.”
So Durant pumped his chest late in the Warriors’ 110-102 victory over the Cavaliers, pouring in a 33-foot dagger jumper and staring down the Warriors’ courtside section that included owner Joe Lacob and Myers. They’re leading 3-0 in the NBA Finals now, on the cusp of back-to-back titles and three championships in four years. And here was Myers, the even-keel GM, telling someone postgame: “How about that?”
“That’s what the Warriors are all about: having fun out there, but also poised,” Durant said.
On a night Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson missed 20 of 27 from the field, Durant had a Finals performance to behold: 43 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, 15-of-23 shooting and six 3-pointers. The Warriors welcomed back 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who’s laboring with a bone bruise in his left leg and tweaked his right leg on Wednesday. Iguodala still contributed in Game 3, posting eight points, two rebounds, one assist and was plus-14 in 22 minutes, having a presence all over the court.
For the second consecutive season, Durant was the best player on the floor in a critical Game 3, outdueling James (33 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds) and knocking down the most memorable shot of the series. For the second June in a row, Durant took hold of the most landscape-altering ramifications for the NBA. There’s no leaving after two potential championships, even if that would change the league again – as would James’ possible movement. Stay in the Bay, and these Warriors have the ability to ease toward two or three more titles.
“It’s almost like playing the Patriots,” James said of the Warriors. Tom Brady has led New England to five championships since 2001, a mark these Warriors could reach in this decade alone. “When you have great basketball players who can also think the game and be very cerebral, that’s what adds the level of stress.”
James has dealt with this stress for four consecutive title runs against these Warriors, and his Cavaliers are outmatched this time. The Cavaliers hung in for most of Game 3, but even their one- or two-point deficits felt like double digits. Kevin Love (20 points, 13 rebounds) has produced as an All-Star throughout the series, and the team finally turned to Rodney Hood (15 points, six rebounds) too little, too late. Hood couldn’t find traction after his trade to Cleveland to become a difference-maker, but he could command a market in free agency from teams hoping an offer sheet stifles the Cavaliers’ price point for the talented 25-year-old.
Another Game 3, another 3-pointer burying the Cavaliers’ hopes in this best-of-seven Finals. Another Kevin Durant Game. James called Durant “one of the best players that I’ve ever played against, that this league has ever seen.” Finally, Durant became No. 1 last June. He’s cementing his place for a second season in a row, yet that didn’t stop others from closely inspecting his future plans.
“You never know in this business,” Myers told Yahoo Sports. “We try to create an environment where players want to go to work, so hopefully all of our players feel good. We need to keep this up.”
So does Durant. Otherwise, the criticism, the judgment, will come swiftly and harshly. Kevin Durant has found a championship gene in the Bay, and perhaps also now controls the NBA’s balance of power.
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