The Clinical Greatness of Kevin Durant

Without thinking about it for more than 15 or 20 seconds, what's the most memorable moment of Kevin Durant's NBA career?

Mind you, this is a player who has been a superstar for over a decade, has won multiple championships, multiple Finals MVPs, and a regular season MVP. Here's the entire list of players to also achieve those honors this century: Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James.

I think the most memorable moment of KD's career occurred in Game 3 of the 2017 Finals. Golden State was down two points on the road in the final minute against Cleveland with a 2-0 lead in the series. After losing the previous year's Finals up 2-0 and 3-1 — without Durant in tow — it felt about as pivotal a game as possible for a team who only needed to win twice to their opponents' four.

Durant jogs the ball up the floor, notices LeBron not immediately manning him up to his right, pulls up with almost 20 seconds left on the shot and drains a three over King James. If it wasn't for how inherently unfair the 2017 to 2019 Warriors felt in the moment and the cap-spike fluke that allowed Golden State to sign KD, we'd remember it as one of the most cold-blooded moments from an all-time NBA Finals great to cap off a 43-point game.

What about after that? I mostly drew a blank — the first thing that came to my mind was the KD/Draymond Green shouting match between teammates that hastened the end of the Warriors' five-season reign at the top. Then, even after that, more stuff — you the real MVP, My Next Chapter memes, and not giving a damn about no Drake Night — that's not actually action on a basketball court.

Perhaps I'm missing a few classic shots/games from his Oklahoma City years or my brain has been fried by the last several years of discourse about Durant.

But here's the overall point I'm trying to make: the two most talented and most accomplished NBA players of the last 10 years are LeBron James and Kevin Durant (apologies to Steph Curry and Kawhi Leonard diehards). But as much as you do or don't like either one of them, you have to admit that LeBron has career dramatics and memorable snapshots in droves — both good and bad.

Kevin Durant makes his great play seem routine and casual. That sounds like I'm calling him boring to some degree. But his game — the way he moves, still shoots mid-range jumpers, and shoots unlike anyone else of his size in NBA history — should not be pedestrian in any way. So why do this year's Nets seem so joyless, despite having two of the best pure scorers of this era (yes, James Harden is currently hurt) and arguably the greatest ball-handler ever?

I think it's because, in this era where superstars can force their way out and practically pick their next destination while under contract — like Harden did to get to Brooklyn — the best teams sometimes feel more artificial and therefore are less celebrated for success.

I have to admit to not watching large stretches of the first two games between the Nets and Bucks, because watching a hammer pound a nail when you were expecting a prizefight isn't very fun to watch. But Game 3, despite an 86-83 final in a 97-possession game, was compelling because of the Nets' struggles and KD still being able to pick his spots in the second half to nearly will Brooklyn to a victory.

In other words, it didn't feel like an inevitable outcome either way.

To be sure, the Nets — having turned up the defense in the playoffs — are now a solid favorite to win the NBA title. If Harden comes back this series — which will be even at 2 games a piece with the Nets having home-court advantage or 3-1 to Brooklyn and all but a wrap by the time you read this — those odds will probably move into prohibitive favorite territory.

No matter how the Nets look in the coming weeks, chances are just about every game will feature 30-plus Durant points. It may even appear like the Nets are predetermined to win the title at various points of this summer — just as those Warriors teams did with Durant. We won't love it as fans, but maybe it's time to appreciate Durant more than we do for how easy he makes the game look.

Comments and Conversation

June 14, 2021


You’re right that KD doesn’t have that many memorable moments. I’d argue that’s also related to how he’s earned a perception as a soft player and a whiner. Fans love it when superstars take charge and will a team to victory. LeBron has done this, Kobe has done this, Steph Curry has done this. In contrast, Durant seems to have more moments of folding when things get difficult, he’s had a number of significant injuries at inopportune times, and his online interactions (which are now an important part of a player’s perception!) paint him as thin-skinned and a bad teammate. The only times he’s come through in the clutch are when he’s on teams that are so stacked that they don’t really even need him.

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