Be ready for anything.
If Game Seven ends with Russell Westbrook standing over a heap of dead Warriors players it would not surprise me. If Stephen Curry goes on a streak so hot it melts the polar ice caps I wouldn’t blink an eye. If Kevin Durant comes out of the tunnel to start the second half in a Warriors jersey… Well that would actually shock me a little, but you get the point.
There are so many big stories swirling around this game, but I can’t stop thinking about how much this game means for Kevin Durant. Durant is the best player in the league without a title, and with free agency right around the corner the result of tonights game could decide the fate of any number of franchises going forward. This is also a huge game for Durant’s personal legacy. As amazing as KD has been, there have been moments at the ends of these games where he has shrunk away from the moment.
This is obviously a small sample size, and you can’t blame a single player for a team losing a game, but history does not look at players with a nuanced eye. When the smoke settles from this series we are going to remember how much of a force Russell Westbrook was and how Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala pulled the Warriors from the brink in Game Six. Durant has played great in this series, his averages for points, rebounds, blocks and steals are all above his regular season splits, and his defense has been incredible in this series, but going 1-for-7 at home in the fourth quarter of an elimination game is not becoming of an all-time great.
The Thunder’s fourth quarter scoring issues have been well documented all season. A team that relies so much on the success of their two stars winning one-on-one, is susceptible to teams that have elite individual defenders like Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson. You have to give the Warriors credit for somehow stopping the ten story snowball that seemed to be pushing the defending champs into a pit of despair. Now that the series is once again equalized and the Thunder have to try to win a Game Seven on the road, there is going to be more pressure on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to perform well than at any other point in their careers. This is what everyone wants to know about these two, can they channel that seemingly endless well of talent into 48 minutes of championship level basketball against an elite opponent?
Russell Westbrook will always have the excuse that he is more of a force of nature than a human being on the basketball court. When things are going his way Westbrook takes over the game like a tidal wave, putting out points in large doses, getting from one end of the court to another in less than four seconds and generally making it impossible for opponents to defend. When he is having an off night, all of that blinding speed and power leads to bad passes, missed defensive assignments and questionable shots. His game requires him to play a little out of control, and because of his unquestionable effort it’s hard to blame him when he makes mistakes.
This is why Kevin Durant has to deal with larger expectations than Westrbook, and it’s also why Durant is an MVP and the most valued free agent since LeBron in 2010. When juxtaposed with Westrbook, Durant looks like he is floating around the court, waiting in the shadows to hit a dagger a three. In game six KD scored the quietest 40 points that I can remember. Because of his size and athleticism he is able to get his shot off whenever he wants. The game looks so easy when Durant has it going, and his incredible mix of size and skill comes with towering expectations. I mean, how does someone like that ever miss a shot, right? Even when Durant is defended my a generationally great defender like Iggy he still gets no slack from the public when fourth quarter shots don’t go in. Kevin Durant is impossibly good at what he does, and I appreciate his game like I appreciate any great work of art, but it’s time that Durant full harness all of that talent, both God given and earned for one defining performance. This is that chance.
I can’t bring myself to fully invest in either team in this game. Part of me wants nothing more than to see KD and Russ get one more crack at a championship, and I don’t think that will happen if they lose tonight. The odds are just too good that Durant will either leave, or play one more year with OKC with the intention of splitting in 2017 when there will be a king’s ransom to be made in free agency. How can you not root for a Thunder/Cavs series? On the other hand you have the case being made that the 2015/16 Warriors are the greatest team of all time. They have fought like The Bride in Kill Bill to bring this series to a seventh game, and it feels like they still have unfinished business. How can you not root for a Warriors/Cavs Finals?
I’m not going to try to pick a winner for tonight’s game, because what is the point? The joy in watching basketball is giving the best athletes on the planet an arena to show off for the world. This is the ultimate stage for two of the more talented teams that I’ve ever seen to show off on. Whether you are a fan of the game basketball or just a fan of greatness in general tonight’s game is appointment television.
This is Game Seven.