He will break your heart, every time. It’s what he does. You can fight and scratch and claw from 20 points back; the Cavaliers did that Tuesday night. You can sneak the deficit into single digits, with enough time left on the clock to dream; the Cavs did that, too. The Cavs were outclassed, outmanned, outgunned for 3 ½ quarters.
Yet here they were.
And it didn’t matter.
Because Kevin Durant plays for the Brooklyn Nets, and so he wasn’t going to allow the unthinkable to happen on his watch. He wasn’t going to allow the Cavs to pull off an absurd comeback, wasn’t going to permit his team to have to endure a one-and-done gauntlet Friday night.
Three times, just as the Cavs were starting to get funny ideas, he crushed them with clutch critical baskets, and he allowed Barclays Center to roar and his teammates to breathe. He broke the Cavs’ spirit and then he broke their hearts. It’s what he does.
“That’s as advertised,” Nets coach Steve Nash said after the Nets had beaten the Cavs, 115-108, clinching a date with the Celtics in the playoffs; Game 1 between the second-seeded C’s and seventh-seeded Nets will be Sunday.
For most of the night it was Durant’s running mate, Kyrie Irving, who ignited the party in Brooklyn. He hit all 11 of his shots through the third quarter. He finished with 34 points and 12 assists, missing just three of his 15 shots.
“They’re superstars,” Nash said. “It’s what top players do.”
The Cavs had cut the Nets’ lead to 88-82 when Darius Garland made a 10-foot floater with 8:43 left; it was as close as the Cavs had been since the first quarter, but Durant promptly drained a corner 3 to expand the lead to nine. Later, the Cavs crawling back to within 99-93, Durant hit back-to-back 16 footers to expand the Nets’ lead to 103-93.
And that was that.
Durant finished with 25 points and 11 assists. Irving may have taken the fans’ breath away; Durant was the one who restored it when things started to look a little dicey. It’s what he does.
“We knew they would throw a lot of different defenses at us, try to slow us down,” Durant said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort for 48 minutes each game. We’ll see what happens.”
Forget everything that bewitched, bothered and bewildered the Nets this season. There has been one reason to tune in every night to watch them play — well, at least 55 days and nights, anyway, plus Tuesday night. Kevin Durant is that reason.
Nothing else has gone according to plan during this three-year chapter. The Nets were quickly excused from the bubble in 2020. James Harden pushed his way here, arrived and played well, grew disenchanted, pushed his way out, all in the space of 14 months. Irving has been hurt, he’s been unvaccinated and unavailable. The Nets were going to win 60 games this year. They settled on 44, and needed a 12-5 hot streak at the end to get there.
Through it all, Durant has been magnificent.
Through it all, Durant has been the one thing the Nets can count on, game after game, night after night, crisis after crisis. He was given a novice coach and all he’s done is help make Nash’s job easier for him. He was given a pair of supporting stars in Harden and Irving who were chronically unreliable and a third, Ben Simmons, who has yet to suit up for the Nets — and just kept playing at an almost unimaginably high level.
Through it all, Durant has remained, at age 33, at worst the third- or fourth-best basketball player on the planet, averaging 29.9/7.4/6.4 and shooting .518/.383/.910.
(One man’s list, for kicks and giggles: 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo; 2. Nikola Jokic; 3. Durant; 4. Joel Embiid. Though I’d vote Jokic for MVP.)
Durant’s own choice might surprise you.
“If I had to choose, I would go Joel Embiid,” Durant said. “He led the league in scoring, double-doubles, his team won 50 games this year. Numbers were incredible. It’s a great year. But you can just close your eyes and just pick any one of the guys out of the top six or seven, and you can have a good MVP this year. That shows how great our league is right now and how talented our league is from top to bottom.”
Among those six or seven, of course, is Durant, who constantly has shaken off the various and sundry issues that subvert the Nets’ mission, who simply makes them better by stepping on the floor and breaking the other team’s heart. It’s what he does.