Life isn’t fair. Neither are most narratives. And the individual who knows both of those statements to be true, maybe better than anyone in today’s NBA, should guard for a barrage of bullshit directed his way should he fail to deliver a performance for the ages. Or, more precisely, two of ‘em.
Of course Kevin Durant has better things to think about mere hours before the Nets and Bucks clash in a pivotal Game 5 in the Eastern Conference semis than giving a damn what NBA Twitter or basketball pundits or barbershop patrons will say should the mighty Nets lose Tuesday in Barclays Center. And again in either Games 6 or 7 if Durant’s fellow superstars, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, are unable to offer a helping hand as they nurse serious injuries.
But when you’re one of the greatest players ever to lace up a pair of your own signature sneakers and score so easily you’re basically a living, breathing basketball cheat code, fans and observers who believe they have seen past and current superstars single-handedly deliver crucial wins in the playoffs are going to expect the moon. And stupidly hold it against your legacy if you don’t do the same.
Because we all know that’s going to happen if Milwaukee waltzes into Brooklyn, bullies the undermanned Nets, Durant doesn’t go for 50, and the Bucks take the series lead after being down 0-2 and nearly 0-3. That’s just how basketball and sports “works” these days. Embrace debate, or outright asinine takes. If Irving and Harden can’t return this series and the favorites to win it all are waxed out of the postseason a few rounds earlier than expected, wrongly, ridiculously, KD will take a ton of heat.
Michael Jordan loyalists will say the GOAT took over too many games to count during his illustrious postseason career and carried the Bulls to numerous victories. Kobe Bryant stans will point out plenty of heroic playoff performances over the 43 series he played in with the Lakers. LeBron James fanatics will shout about how sorry the 2007 and 2018 Cavaliers squads he took to the Finals really were. If KD is so god damn good and generational, why can’t he man up and do the same in Brooklyn?
For starters, please remember that each team and each situation is different. On the drive to a championship, context absolutely matters and should be required in any and all discussions. Even though he’s a two-time NBA Finals MVP and undoubtedly will be a top 10 player all time when he’s finally done, Durant’s different than MJ, Kobe, or LeBron for reasons I think all serious basketball fans are well aware of. And frankly, he’s taking on a challenge in Game 5 (and possibly beyond) those guys never had to. I didn’t exactly dig through the archives, but feel free to remind me of the last time MJ or Kobe stepped onto a court in such a pivotal playoff game, against such a formidable squad, happened to not have the services of their two best teammates, and was expected to do everything offensively, including things (like facilitate) he’s practically never been asked to do as a professional. LeBron, however, can relate. He experienced it starting with Game 2 of the 2015 Finals, against a Warriors squad on its first run together. Sure, James put up numbers (35.8 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 8.8 APG), but ultimately how’d that work out for him and the Cavs over six games?
Conventional wisdom will tell you it’s going to take multiple Herculean efforts from Durant to put the severely depleted, undersized, and shockingly vulnerable Nets in a position to pull out a series victory over a damn good Bucks squad if Irving and Harden can’t get back onto the court. Milwaukee, featuring a very good three-headed monster of its own in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton, looks rejuvenated offensively after Game 4 and they should smell blood in the water. Milwaukee’s core has been together for multiple seasons and is more than good enough to get to the NBA Finals. While I think we’d all pick a fully stacked Nets squad to beat the Bucks in a seven-game series, injuries have changed the equation. And they should obviously change your expectations of the Nets and of Durant.
If you ask me, Durant is one of the most fascinating and probably misunderstood superstars the NBA has ever seen. If you didn’t catch The New York Times Magazine profile of him (and to a lesser degree the offensive juggernaut that is this season’s Nets squad), it’s absolutely worth a read. You’ll learn a few things about Durant from his tough childhood to what makes him tick as a walking bucket. He’s sensitive, he’s perceptive, he’s inquisitive, he’s (gasp) human. So let’s treat him like one with the deck stacked against him. I shudder to think of the clapbacks on Twitter we’ll see from KD should the egg avis start talking tough and say something stupid like this was karma catching up to him after leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State.
So if you’re dying to pile on Durant should he somehow not average Wilt Chamberlain numbers the rest of this series and fail to get the Nets to the Eastern Conference Finals, please keep things in perspective. Don’t ignore that luck is a huge factor in every team’s postseason run and remember that a generational talent—as brilliant as KD is at basketball—could use a little help from his friends. Like all of your favorite legends.