January 18, 2018
Jun 7, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts after a dunk during the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game three of the 2017 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

By J.M. Poulard

A conqueror exudes confidence and creates a sense of security for his kingdom because he delivers time and time again. His castle and its people always stand a fighting chance as long as he is there to lead the knights, because no rival can outsmart or outgun the king.

Kevin Durant never got that memo.

And in truth, he was too busy ripping out LeBron James’ heart with an impeccably timed dagger that gave the Golden State Warriors a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA Finals.

The story of these Finals will be of Durant’s rise to prominence as a champion and his ascension to the throne at LeBron’s expense, but that narrative will fail to provide a proper autopsy of Cleveland’s demise. 

LeBron has been legendary in these Finals and yet, that’s barely even a footnote of the story. James is surpassing the Herculean effort and standard he set during the 2016 Finals, but the combination of exhaustion, talent disparity, underwhelming returns from teammates and an 0-3 hole has rendered it all moot. 

The biggest silencer on James’ performance, though, has been Durant. KD has been a dominant force in the championship round and the Cavs haven’t had any answers for him. 

Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue has asked James, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson and Tristan Thompson to defend the 6’9” scoring machine, and they’ve all failed in one way or another. Worse yet, Durant has torched Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on switches, in what is the only viable defensive strategy against screens given the Dubs’ shooting prowess.

Indeed, Steph Curry (26 points) and Klay Thompson (30 points) gave Durant the necessary support and spacing to operate without as much as a hint of resistance.

MVP Ladder: Is there room for Kevin Durant in this discussion?

KD’s Game 3 stat line (31 points, eight rebounds and four assists) and performance certainly caught a few eyes — and broke hearts — and that was a mere continuation of what he’s done to Cleveland in this series.

The lethal Durant is averaging 34 points, 10.3 rebounds and six assists while shooting a blistering 56.1 percent from the field. As a result of his out-of-this-world play, many now believe that Durant is the rightful heir to the throne and that James is now getting ready to fade into the background. 

“I know you guys don’t wanna hear it,” former L.A. Clipper and current ESPN analyst Paul Pierce said following the game. “But we’re at the start of the Kevin Durant era and the end of the LeBron era.”

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The most fascinating aspect of that statement is that it suggests that Bron is actually getting owned when in reality he’s been Durant’s equal if not his superior in these last three games. 

And yet, Pierce isn’t alone in his sentiment.

“I don’t necessarily agree with Paul, but I gotta ride with him here,” Jalen Rose said while on set with Pierce. “A lot of people act like Kevin Durant hasn’t been in the top two or three in the last five, six years. He’s not saying that Klay Thompson is the best player in the league, like he’s been right there for those who have been paying attention. He is right that this is the start of the KD era.”

For those already burying LeBron, though, it’s worth noting that while Golden State has found an answer for his teammates, James still remains in a class by himself. He has been an impressive playmaker, explosive scorer and strong rebounder during these Finals as evidenced by his triple-double average (32 points, 12.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists  on a cool 55.4 percent shooting).

That’s hardly an easy feat, but if more convincing is needed with respect to his greatness, consider this:  In a five-point home loss, LeBron was plus-seven in 46 minutes of playing time.

The Isaiah Thomas Effect

Ah, the minutes.

The incredibly strenuous workload James is carrying in the title round has begun to exhibit its effects as LeBron has worn down in the second half of every June game; and his opponents have noticed.

For all of Irving’s dazzling scoring displays (38 points on 16-for-29 shooting in Game 3), he simply cannot run the Cavs offense and consistently manufacture quality looks for his teammates. Thus, Lue has needed James on the floor to help steer the ship, and in turn it’s fatigued him.

Call it the Durant effect.

That detail will easily get lost in the big picture because winners always get to dictate history; and right now Kevin Durant is winning at the expense of his counterpart.

The 2017 Finals should not be used to signal Durant’s arrival; rather it’s a reminder of the immense gifts he’s possessed for a long time. 

Let’s get ready to crown KD.

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J.M. Poulard

J.M. enjoys all things basketball and spends an inordinate amount of time catching up on NBA games. He’s spent some time writing over at a few ESPN TrueHoop affiliate blogs as well as Bleacher Report.

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