CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant faced plenty of backlash last year when he joined a ready-made title contender but has proven that he is not simply along for the ride as he closes in on a maiden NBA championship.
Durant’s sheer talent and uncanny ability to hit shots at key moments has been the difference maker for a Warriors team that have raced out to a 3-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
“We knew how good he was, but just how clutch he’s been, how many big shots he’s hit for us ... it just looks like he
understands this is his moment, this is his time,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said on Thursday.
“He’s earned it. He’s been in this league for a long time, and he’s, I think, at the top of his game at the biggest time.”
Barring a collapse of epic proportions, Durant will finally become an NBA champion in the coming days and likely be named Finals MVP, less than a year after ripping out the hearts of Oklahoma City fans by leaving the Thunder.
That move by the four-times scoring champion drew criticism as it came just weeks after the Warriors denied Durant and the Thunder a trip to last year’s Finals by storming back from a 3-1 series deficit.
Added to the fact that he joined a Warriors team that won the NBA title in 2015 and followed that up by winning a record 73 games last season before falling to Cleveland in seven games, Durant was considered a villain by many.
Durant’s current team mates, however, call him unselfish when it comes to understanding how he can impact the game each night.
“It took a while for it to kind of reveal itself consistently as the regular season went on,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry.
“But once it clicked and the habits started to become second nature, it was kind of beautiful to watch and an amazing kind of style to play and watch unfold.”
Durant hit the game-winning three-pointer in the closing stages of Game Three on Wednesday and the former league MVP said he remains focused on just playing hard.
“That’s what we always talk about, we all just want to have some fun but play disciplined,” said Durant.
“And so that’s a battle I’m trying to go through more so than worrying about how I’m playing, how great I’m playing. I’m just trying to be solid for my team mates.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Larry Fine