Dream of an eight-year-old comes true: Durant wins NBA Finals MVP


Dream of an eight-year-old comes true: Durant wins NBA Finals MVP

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.”

DeMarcus Cousins finally solves Oracle Arena riddle in win over Pacers

DeMarcus Cousins finally solves Oracle Arena riddle in win over Pacers

OAKLAND - A little more than a week ago in a Toyota Center hallway, DeMarcus Cousins was having a hard time solving a riddle. 

Following a 27-point, eight-rebound performance against the Rockets, Cousins was still facing a conundrum. 

"For some reason, I can't just have a good game at Oracle, I don't know what it is," Cousins said on March 13. "But I'm sure it'll happen eventually." 

Entering Thursday's matchup against the Pacers, Cousins averaged nearly six more points on the road than his home output, shooting less than 37 percent from the field. However, in a 112-89 demolition of Indiana, Cousins, for the moment, beat the meager odds, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. 

"DeMarcus was fantastic," head coach Steve Kerr said. "He was physical in there, getting a lot of drives to the hoop, drawing a lot of attention defensively and making great passes." 

When the Warriors signed Cousins, then recovering from an Achilles tear, the hope was for the former All-Star to give the champs an element it hasn't seen during its run: An offensive-minded center who can dominate down low. Remnants of that promise was seen Thursday evening, as Cousins scored 13 points in the first half, helping Golden State shoot 51 percent from the field. 

"The dude is amazing," Stephen Curry said. "He did it all different ways in terms of inside, outside. Put pressure on their bigs to have to make decisions."

Since Cousins returned more than two months ago, he's seen both the highs and lows of an Achilles rehab. Those lows have typically coincided with home outings. Entering Thursday, he averaged 12.5 points on just 36 percent shooting from the field, compared to 18.5 points on 54.7 percent shooting away from Oakland. 

Perhaps Indiana is an appropriate team for the man they call 'Boogie' to find his groove. Two months ago against the Pacers, in just his fifth game back in the lineup, he scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half, punishing Indiana's frontline, giving a glimpse of the levels Golden State could reach. 

"It's just a different dimension for us that we've never had," Kerr said. "We did play through David West on the low-block the last couple years, but it's different when DeMarcus gets going downhill, with shooters around him, he's just a force."

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For the last two months, the Warriors have been searching for ways to integrate the talented center, and for the time being, the two sides seems to be clicking. Over his last five games, Cousins is averaging 19 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

"I love playing with DeMarcus." Klay Thompson said. "He sets great screens, he catches everything you throw at him and he's just an amazing presence out there with his toughness and competitiveness and he's going to be such a big part of what we do in the playoffs."

Warriors summoning their ruthless defense at precisely the right time

Warriors summoning their ruthless defense at precisely the right time

OAKLAND – Not for a minute were the Warriors truly worried. Perplexed, maybe, but never concerned about finding the best of themselves. Even as they were stacking up shoddy defensive performances, inviting layups and open 3-pointers, they always knew.

Always knew that when the bright lights began twinkling in the distance, they’d muscle up.

So now, with the postseason three weeks away, they’re energizing their defense and getting serious about suffocating opponents.

The latest example came Thursday night, when the Warriors harassed the Pacers back to Indiana with raw backsides and a 112-89 loss for their time in Oakland. Indiana shot 24 percent in the first quarter, 32.7 percent in the first half and 38.9 percent in the third quarter, by which time the crowd at Oracle Arena was dancing and sipping and celebrating a 28-point lead.

For a team playing its third game in four nights, across two zones, this was profoundly impressive.

“Our energy was great; everybody was engaged,” assistant coach and defensive coordinator Ron Adams said. “And our spirit was the best I’ve seen in a long time.”

Adams acknowledged the efforts and Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins but was particularly pleased with the defensive intensity displayed by Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. Durant set a tone with three first-quarter blocks and Curry limited Indiana point guard Cory Joseph to 1-of-7 shooting.

Indiana shot 50 percent shooting in a garbage-time fourth quarter to lift its field-goal percentage to 38.5 for the game.

“They forced us to take some tough (shots), especially when they did some late-clock switching,” Pacers forward Thaddeus Young said. “We were forced to take some contested shots, and they didn’t go in and then that’s what they thrive off of. When you take a bad shot, they either get a leak out or they’ll push the break in transition and get 3s.”

A pattern is developing.

The Warriors have spent the past five games harassing offenses to the brink of despair. Nine days ago in Houston, they limited the Rockets to 26.8 percent shooting from deep, which is their core offense. Last Saturday in Oklahoma City, the Thunder shot 32.3 overall. The Spurs shot 46.6 percent Monday in San Antonio and the Timberwolves shot 40.4 percent Tuesday in Minneapolis.

The Warriors prior to the last five games were 15th in the NBA in defensive rating (109.2), causing worry lines to form within the fan base. Over the past five games, they are third (100.6) – and No. 1 in the Western Conference.

No worries.

“It’s really been fun to see,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re more engaged and active.”

The Warriors started dismantling the Pacers by outscoring them 18-10 over the final 5:03 of the first half and took them completely apart by opening the second half with a 17-3 run to build a 70-48 lead with 5:58 left in the third quarter.

“You have to give their defense a lot of credit,” said Indiana assistant coach Dan Burke, who took over for Nate McMillan, who is temporarily away for family reasons. “They have so much flexibility and versatility, and that switching is like a stoplight for us.

“We can’t allow that to happen. We have to move the ball. We are not an iso team. We played like there were a lot of mismatches there. I didn’t see very many mismatches.”

Andrew Bogut, who received a standing ovation upon his return to Oracle after nearly three years, offered a succinct and accurate analysis: “We made them take bad shots in the half court, late in the shot clock and turned them over.”

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Indy’s starters shot 28.6 percent (14-of-49) from the field. The Warriors forced 16 turnovers, off which they scored 21 points.

With 11 games remaining, the defending champs are turning ruthless. They’re finding their edge, the one they’ll need beginning the second weekend in April.

The team Warriors fans have been waiting for is materializing before us.