Kevin Durant remains NBA's best despite Nets' tough season
Is it really all over for Kevin Durant?
In one playoff series — albeit one that began with three really bad games — has he really been dethroned as the top player in the NBA? Is the 10-time All-Star really getting passed by younger guys?
For some, that may be the takeaway from this first-round series. Jayson Tatum’s Boston Celtics swept Durant’s Nets out of the first round of the playoffs Monday night with a 116-112 win in Game 4 at Barclays Center. In fact, former Celtic Paul Pierce didn’t even have to wait for a Game 4 to declare on Twitter that Tatum was “surpassing Kevin Durant right before our eyes in the NBA hierarchy.”
Well, there were some pretty sure signs Monday that there hasn’t been an official changing of the guard, at least not as far as Durant is concerned. After scoring 39 points and taking an aggressive 31 shots in the game, he made it clear that he is looking to fix the team going forward.
“No regrets. [Expletive] happens,” Durant said. “No crying over spilled milk. It’s about how we can progress and get better from here. You see what we’ve been through — a lot this year. Everybody in this organization knows what we went through. No time to feel regret or be too [ticked] off about it.
“Find a solution to get better, proactive as an organization and get better. Even the great teams, they don’t dwell on what they do.”
The Nets were supposed to be a great team. They were predicted to win it all by most pundits at the beginning of the season but instead are the only team in the playoffs that did not win a playoff game.
Taum played a role in that, scoring 29 points Monday to add to the 31, 19 and 31 points he scored in the first three. Yet it’s a bit early to declare him the better player, especially when he has better teammates and a better coach and has had a better and more coherent season to prepare for the playoffs.
No superstar carried the load Durant did this season. He had to average 37 minutes during the regular season to make up for the fact that Kyrie Irving was a part-time player and James Harden didn’t want to be a Net. He rehabbed through a knee injury that kept him out for seven weeks and finished the season averaging 29.9 points, tied with Giannis Antetokounmpo for second-most in the NBA.
“If Kevin doesn’t score a bucket tonight, I think it would be perilous to say his apex is behind him,” Nets coach Steve Nash said Monday morning. “For me, I don’t see any drop- off for Kevin next year just because he’s had three games that don’t look like his best games.”
Yes, the first three games of the series were grim for the Slim Reaper as he was bumped, pushed and forced into double- and triple-teams. Durant entered Monday shooting 36.5% (19-for-52) with 17 turnovers in the three losses.
Losing in the first round should be considered a colossal failure and embarrassment for this team. When the Nets traded for Harden last year, the talk wasn’t about if they would win a title, it was about how many. And at the start of this season, the Nets were picked by almost everybody to make it to the NBA Finals.
The fact that they didn’t has little to do with what Durant has done on the court.
There are two things, however, he can be faulted for: Hitching his star to Irving, a talented player whose commitment to winning does not match his own, and underestimating the important of having an experienced game coach on the bench.
Irving’s decision not to get vaccinated has hung over the team all season and is the major reason that Harden wanted to get traded. Nash, who was Durant’s choice, was outmatched in this series and very likely will take the fall. Nash, however, would have been just fine if the Nets had kept Mike D’Antoni and Ime Udoka running the team’s offense and defense this season. Instead, Udoka went to the Celtics and devised a plan that frustrated the best shooter in the game.
Still, it’s not over for Kevin Durant. At age 33, he remains the best basketball player in his prime to ever play in New York. It’s going to be a long summer, but he’ll be back.
Hopefully with some healthier and more stable teammates.