Kevin Durant turns budding Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals rivalry into a rout

LeBron's hopes for multiple titles with Cavs ended when Durant signed

Daryl Ruiter
June 06, 2018 - 11:39 pm
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second quarter in game three of the 2018 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Kevin Durant’s decision to join the then 73-win Golden State Warriors in the summer of 2016 altered the NBA landscape and the budding rivalry between them and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It may have also altered LeBron James’ destiny.

What was once a competitive and entertaining pair of Finals that saw Cleveland and Golden State split championships in 2015 and 2016, with the Warriors holding a 7-6 games advantage, has turned into a 1-sided rout thanks to Durant.

With Durant, the Warriors have now won 7 of the last 8 Finals games between the 2 teams and are 48 minutes from a sweep Friday night.

"You guys ask me what is the difference between the Warriors -- you guys asked me this last year, what was the difference between the Warriors the previous year and this year, and what was my answer? All right. There it is. Kevin Durant was my answer," James said.

Durant dropped 43 Wednesday night in a 110-102 victory and he may have forced James into making a difficult decision this summer to leave Cleveland a second time.

“He's one of the best players that I've ever played against that this league has ever seen,” James said. “His ability to handle the ball, shoot the ball, make plays at his length, his size, his speed.”

With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson struggling, Durant went off and absolutely torched the Cavs. He drilled the dagger, a 3 from 32 feet, with 48.9 remaining in the fourth to put Golden State up 6 and seal the victory.

“Sometimes even when you know it's coming and he's playing downhill and he's out there dancing with the ball, that pull-up is tough to stop because he can shoot right over you at that size,” forward Kevin Love said.

Durant hit 15 of 23 shots, including 6 of 9 from 3, while adding 13 rebounds and 7 assists to push the Warriors within a victory of a third title in 4 years at Cleveland’s expense. That last shot, which was similar to one he hit in Game 3 a year ago, was the final nail in the Cavs' coffin.

“That's what he does. He's a scorer,” James said. “You know, he's assassin, and that was one of those assassin plays right there.”

James just didn’t have enough to counter Durant’s barrage – or enough help.

James made 13 of 28 attempts and scored 33 points while adding 11 assists and 10 rebounds in the Game 3 loss – his 10th NBA Finals triple-double of his career – which normally would be a headliner but Durant's big night overshadowed it.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue’s big move for Game 3 to try and take down Golden State was to play Rodney Hood. Hood was magnificent scoring 15 points off the bench and making 7 of 11 shots.

Unfortunately, Lue or the Cavs had no answer for Durant.

“Holding Steph to 11 points and Klay to 10, you would think you would win that game,” Lue lamented.

Love tallied 20 points and 13 rebounds and JR Smith added 13 but it was not enough to take down Durant.

“When you had Kevin Durant now to -- well, last year to a 73 and 9 team, he's obviously an MVP-level player,” Love said. “A guy that is All NBA, First Team All-NBA in this league, right there at the top of this league every single year. So just adds a whole different dynamic.”

Golden State shot 51.9 percent from the field in the win despite Thompson and Curry combining to make just 7 of 27 attempts and scoring 21 points between them, because of Durant.

“You know, that's why they've retooled this team, went out and got K.D. to where there's really not much pressure on -- you know, I won't say any of them to score, but if one of them has a bad game, they have three or four guys that can actually pick up the load," James said. "And as you've seen with K.D. picking it up today and Steph picking it up in Game 2, they all have the ability to -- we can't ever forget about Klay. He's a guy that scored 40 in a quarter before. So that's the luxury of having guys like that that you can always -- any given moment, they can kind of go off for a game.”

How did the Cavs counter Durant's move? By trading the second-best player on the team and the only one not named LeBron who could actually facilitate his own shot.

The trade of Kyrie Irving to Boston will go down as one of the all-time great blunders for the franchise – right up there with the Ron Harper trade. It did not provide the Cavs with enough firepower in return to warrant the trade, regardless of Irving’s request and simply put, they got robbed and it has cost them in these Finals dearly.

Despite salvaging the season at the trade deadline with a flurry of trades, again the Cavs didn’t recoup enough talent to overcome Durant and the Warriors. To be fair, it might have been an impossible endeavor to begin with.

And even the Cavs can’t help but think what could’ve been had Irving stayed.

“I think, yeah, that's human nature to think about that kind of a thing,” Love said. “But there's been a lot of overhaul on this roster. We've mentioned all year. It's felt like a number of seasons in one. But we've been resilient. We've played in a couple Game 7s, and now we just have to come out Friday and shoot our shot and not give in.”

When James returned in 2014, it seemed his desire was to ultimately finish his career with the Cavs, but his pursuit of championships may require him to build a super team elsewhere capable of taking down the Warriors.

“If you want to compete for a championship or win a championship, you've got to go through the champion, and they're the champion,” James said. “No matter -- everyone gets so caught up on saying they're vulnerable or they're not playing so well, and then they go down 3-2, and then they go to somebody else's floor and win. Or they win at home and send it back to somebody else's floor and win in a Game 7. That's what championship teams do. That's what championship players do.

“They rise to the occasion, and that's what Golden State has done the last four years.”

Durant has seemingly slammed the door shut, not only on these Finals, but maybe James' days in Cleveland.