As the confetti rained down on the Golden State Warriors, fresh off completing arguably the most dominant postseason run in NBA history, Finals MVP Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry finally locked eyes at the center of the court. Curry jumping for joy and filled with jubilation, Durant smiling, punching Curry in the chest with the relief that the monkey was finally off their back. In that moment, the fans of the NBA realized what Curry and Durant knew one year ago. To reach the mountaintop, they needed one another.
Both of them failed to achieve their ultimate goal of winning a championship in the 2016 NBA season. Durant lost a heart-breaking seven-game series to Curry’s Warriors after leading last year’s Western Conference Finals, three games to one. In nearly the same context, Curry lost in even more heartbreaking fashion on a bigger stage, the Finals, to LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and the Cleveland Cavaliers after also leading their series 3-1.
Durant’s move to the Warriors last summer was not simply fueled by the fact that the two stars lost – it was the way in which both Curry and Durant came up short that fueled the decision. We all remember in the fateful Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals when Russell Westbrook committed multiple costly turnovers to allow the Warriors to complete the comeback and ultimately take the series in seven. Westbrook losing a game late for Oklahoma City was not an isolated incident, in fact, there were countless times when Durant and Westbrook were teammates in OKC that it was Westbrook, not Durant, with the ball in his hands with the game on the line. Without a point guard who was willing to let Durant be “The Guy” in crunch time, he was unable to overcome the Warriors and capture the title he so desperately coveted.
Likewise, no one will forget how the Curry led Warriors became the first team in NBA history to choke away a 3-1 series lead in the Finals. Curry was very pedestrian the entire series, averaging just under 23 points per game and an abnormally low 3.7 assists. Not only did Curry struggle throughout the series, but he also went ice-cold in Game 7 from three and was unable to close out LeBron and the Cavaliers. What people fail to mention when discussing Curry’s performance in Game 7 however, is that the rest of the Warriors could not make a shot in the final minutes either. Klay Thompson, Andre Iggudola, and Draymond Green all missed threes in the final five minutes of play. Without another elite, one-on-one scorer on the floor, Curry was unable to defeat LeBron and capture his second championship.
Many people have criticized Durant vehemently for his decision to leave Oklahoma City and form a super team with Curry, Thompson and Green in Golden State. While it is hard to argue that Durant took the easy way out to win a championship, he deserves credit for sacrificing his personal image for a ring. He also deserves credit for knowing exactly what he needed to finally get over the hump: A point guard who made him better and a point guard who did not care who got the glory. Many people remember Durant for choosing the Warriors over Oklahoma City but ultimately, KD chose Stephen Curry over Russell Westbrook.
Curry became the model NBA player on the court during the 2016-17 NBA season. Even though Steph knew Durant would probably overtake him as the team’s best player and quite possibly even become the face of the team eventually, he recruited Durant in the offseason as hard as anyone. Even as a two-time MVP, once being unanimous, he was smart enough to realize exactly what he needed to get over the hump: A tall, athletic wing who could score at will with his back to the basket and in isolation situations. Curry also was smart enough to realize that despite skepticism, the presence of Durant would actually make the game easier for him. Although he is unfairly criticized for being self-centered and “full of himself”, Curry was the most unselfish player in the NBA in 2017. He sacrificed personal accolades and recognition because his only goal was to be a champion again.
In the final quarter of this magical NBA season, the Warriors, Curry and Durant all earned the ultimate payoff. Even though the Warriors were nailing shot after shot, the fourth quarter of Game 5 was more similar to the fourth quarter of Game 7 last year than one might think. Curry once again went cold from the perimeter, shooting just 2-9 from three for the game. However, this time, the presence and play of his running mate Durant changed everything. Just as Durant wanted, Curry deferred to him in the final 12 minutes and allowed him to win the Warriors their second championship. Just as Curry wanted, Durant opened up driving lanes for other players and Curry in particular. Curry, criticized by many for being “just a shooter”, shot 8-11 from inside the arc including countless open drives to the basket.
So once again, as the maize and blue confetti showered down onto the World Champions’ feet, the Golden State Warriors once again proved to the world how they are almost impossible to hate. Kevin Durant embraced his mom at center court in one of the most heartfelt embraces I have ever seen. Even Steph and Durant’s moms hugged it out on the court post game. Like it or not, but there are still parts of the Warriors that represent all that is right with the NBA. Their star players are grounded, unselfish, and winners. Time will tell if Curry and Durant will reach the same mountain top again next year but one thing is for certain. Apart, KD and Steph were beatable. Together, KD and Steph have an opportunity to be legendary.