OAKLAND -- Kevin Durant may have believed this was coming: The joyful season with the Warriors, new discoveries of basketball and beyond, a championship and, lastly, the Bill Russell award being placed in his hands.
Durant, once criticized across a banner headline in Oklahoma as “Mr. Unreliable,” is Mr. Dependable in Oakland. He also is the MVP of the 2017 NBA Finals, the award presented by Russell himself as the confetti fell from the rafters.
Durant played starring role as the Warriors closed out the Cavaliers Monday night at Oracle Arena with a 129-120 victory in Game 5 of The Finals.
He surely dreamed of this when he was “8 years old” and visualized it as an NBA star. That much was evident during a recent conversation with NBCSportsBayArea.com, when Durant discussed his game, what he thinks about during a game and his comfort with being on the court.
“I just try to do everything naturally,” he said. “I work on things so much, and if it becomes a habit then it just becomes muscle memory. Repetition is the father of learning, and once you do it so much I just tell myself, ‘I don’t know when I’m going to do this move, but at some point I’m going to have to bring it out.’ “
Durant’s full arsenal was on display during these Finals. Purposeful drives punctuated by dunks. Mid-range jumpers. Rim protection. Back-door cuts for dunks. Clever feeds to teammates. Scoop shots.
Shots from beyond the 3-point arc, one of them particularly clutch.
As fabulous as Stephen Curry was during this four-game sweep of the Cavaliers, it was Durant who opened a great many unprepared eyes while closing even more prejudicial mouths.
More than offsetting Cleveland’s wondrous LeBron James, Durant averaged 35.2 points per game, on 55.6-percent shooting, including 47.4-percent beyond the arc, 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Only Allen Iverson (in 2001) has scored more points in a five-game Finals series, and his 76ers lost to the Lakers.
Durant become the third person in NBA history, along with Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, to win at least four scoring titles and one NBA title. He also is the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 with five consecutive Finals games of at least 30 points.
For Durant, the past 11 months are part validation and but also natural progression.
“It’s like anything else: If you do something every single day, you have a feel for it,” he said. “You may have an old-school car that only you know how to start because you’ve been starting it every day. Somebody else might not be able to start it. You just develop that touch.
“That’s how the game is. That’s how anything is when you been doing it for a long time and you love it and want to try and master it.”
Watching Durant attack at both ends, it was evident that every move had been choreographed, either through practice repetitions or in his mind. No Warrior is more in love with basketball than Durant. Remember the time back in 2011 when, because he wanted to play, a 22-year-old Durant showed up at Harlem’s famed Rucker Park and dropped 66 points on the locals?
To further express his joy with the Rucker experience, he also tweeted about it.
Nearly six years later -- a time during which he has been the subject of some very public and very stinging critiques -- Durant’s reverence for the game is undiminished.
“Once I watch back and reflect on a game, I could see a little bit of poetry in motion as I’m playing,” he said. “Sometimes, I can see where I might go toward being too smooth and not aggressive enough. There are times when I could be stronger and more forceful.
“I just like to be simple, man. I don’t have to dribble the ball 20 times to get a shot off, or to make it look cool. I’m not into trying to be cool out there. I’m just trying to get the job done. And however it gets done, ugly or pretty, it doesn’t matter as long as it gets done. That’s what my game is about, straight to the point, trying to be efficient, trying not to waste too much energy and movement. And have some fun.”
Winning an NBA championship is beyond fun. It is, according to those who have experienced it, pure rapture, the peak moment of one’s career. For Durant, it’s all of that -- but not everything that’s out there. It’s not, in his mind, all the game has to offer.
Which is why he’ll want to scale the next peak and the one after that. He learned from his first NBA Finals, in 2012, when he was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. They lost to the Miami in five games.
This was, well, immensely more enjoyable. So much that Durant wants more.
“The game is never perfect,” he said. “But when you want something so much you believe it can be. That’s why you want to be great. You’re striving for perfection because you feel you can be perfect. I don’t want to take that drive away from me, but I also have to scale it back and realize that even as I’m striving for it, it’ll never happen. But I can still believe it chase it and hope for it.
“There will be times when I’ll have to jump over obstacles. I might not win that time, but I’ve got to keep going. This might sound over-dramatic, but that’s the best way I can put it.”