Kevin Durant isn't just reclaiming his status as the league's top player, he's ready to win another title
It wasn't the exact location, but the same walk, the same pace for Kevin Durant when he announced to the basketball world that the torch was his three years ago.
The pull-up triple he punched LeBron James in the face in the NBA Finals was easy money, be it with or against the Golden State Warriors, in a crowded arena or in an empty gym, at the opening or closing .
The reasons why Durant did not receive its due flowers are innumerable, but mostly invalid. The fact that he is alerting the world that he is coming to win back what his business is, less about the prologue and more about what is to come.
It's hard to really judge where the Brooklyn Nets sit in the pantheon of anything so far. It's a game against a Golden State team without Draymond Green and Klay Thompson for the season.
The expectations are sky high as they should be. There's a lot of talent at the Barclays Center, including Kyrie Irving, but Durant is why we're all here and expect him to defy modern sports history to produce enticing performances that make us rethink hierarchies and lists .
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant will take on Golden State Warriors forward Kelly Oubre Jr. during the NBA inaugural game on December 22, 2020. (AP Photo / Kathy Willens)
Durant has never been forgotten in basketball consciousness, but so much has happened since we last saw him - and even longer since he was properly rated as a player who is part of history.
LeBron added another ring, and before that, Kawhi Leonard temporarily snatched the crown in Toronto. Giannis Antetokounmpo has won a couple of MVPs and now Luka Doncic comes in as a popular choice for MVP this season.
But you can't forget about Durant, even watching a team with so many weapons that can explode at any moment.
That pull-up sweater looked simple and the moment Eric Paschall stepped out and gave him the baseline, Durant's blast looked intact as he blew the boy for a light dip.
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The 22 points in 25 minutes doesn't seem worthy of such a proclamation, but the suppleness and entirety of his game seemed so familiar to me that you almost forgot that he and didn't mature as a playmaker in his final season at Golden State only as defender for the last two seasons.
"I don't have to show anyone anything," said Durant, recognizing his reputation as a deadly goalscorer. “Whatever they wear, they put it on. I don't want to prove myself, I want to do what my trainer asks me to do. I can put my skills to the test every evening. "
What the warriors helped cultivate, they saw a role in destruction. Theft here, a backdoor pass to a cutting Joe Harris there - okay to say it out loud.
The best basketball player is back.
"I'm just saying there's a big difference between taking an 18-month break from the NBA and coming back," said Nets manager Steve Nash. "He looks like Kevin, plays like Kevin, but I don't want to raise expectations."
Nash is pragmatic with his tone to soften things up. There's a first half of this season, a second half of this season, a bloody pandemic to deal with. It's a long journey, and even if you get back down on the ground looking like a competent player, it's a long way to go if you have to learn to walk again, let alone overtake a LeBron James who is very close to his prime .
"He has an eye for the long game," said Nash. “There are still many steps to be taken. He is grateful for the process. He just enjoys his health and ability to play the game. He doesn't get carried away by the chatter. He is just finding his game again. "
Perhaps that was why Durant seemed so reluctant after the game. A laid back guy at first, his mood relied on the Inside the NBA crew making fun of themselves in ways only they can.
Maybe it's the marathon he's thinking of, or even his constantly speculated state of mind that is always fodder and part of the Durant package.
"I know it's a lot of emotions. I've received so many calls and texts," Durant said at a video press conference after the game. "I'm trying not to make too much of this whole thing. I've been playing since I was eight Age. "
He entered the NBA as a certified bucket and soon became unstoppable. Now, inconspicuous as it may be, he's a one-man contender, even in a loaded Eastern Conference, with even the worst injury a player can ricochet off.
In all of Hullabaloo's formidable series of finals, there has only been one time that a sane Durant missed the conference finals in the last decade: in 2013, when Thunder Russell Westbrook lost the first round to a knee injury and fell into round 2 the Memphis Grizzlies.
The bottom of a Durant-led team is the last four. Irving as the Joker brings more drama with it, and Irving's injury story creates interesting choices for the networks front office for the champagne dreams it has.
Durant's biggest challenge might be to be the beacon for a young team, a stabilizing force for a team with Irving, who can be a polarizing personality.
But for now he has passed this final test, this first public one. And whether he says it or not, it seems clear that he has bigger goals in mind.
“We have to take it day by day. He's here because of his hard work and determination, ”said Nash. "I don't expect every night to be great. He still needs time to adapt."
If this is just one step, the rest of the NBA should be scared.
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