By now, there should be an Eminem song that says, “Will all the KD haters please stand up?”
Kevin Durant (the real Kevin Durant) couldn’t close out the conference semifinals against the Bucks, and you can already imagine all the hate he’ll get for it.
People from the dark grungy crevices of the internet (specifically those Twitter-defacing trolls under the Golden Gate Bridge) will point to the Nets’ loss in Game 7, then point at Durant and yell, “LOSER!” It’s the kind of childhood taunting that can really only be maturely responded to with a shrug and, “Yeah, if you say so.”
And it’s true. The Nets lost. Durant couldn’t carry the team to the Eastern Conference Finals, much less the Finals. But to all those who put an asterisk by Durant’s two championships, there should also be an asterisk next to this year that reads, “Most unpredictable season ever.”
Injury. Irving’s moods. Harden’s antics. Injury. Griffin is good now? Harris is so cold he needs to put on a sweater. Injury. Of course, some of these sound more like excuses than reasons, but the fact is the newly-founded Nets superteam wasn’t ready for the seismic stresses of the postseason. They first bonded together in a chaotic frenzy and stayed that way: charged, unstable, ready to implode at any moment.
In the end, the team’s unpredictability was too much for Durant to handle, through no fault of his own.
Brooklyn Nets: Pitiful playoffs exit changes nothing about Kevin Durant’s value on the team
On paper, this series was the exact kind of petri-dish matchup that breeds champions. Giannis versus KD. Players whose hungry beasts emerge, lock in, and slam-dunk their way to victory. Even with Harden hobbling on one leg and Irving sitting for three games, KD theoretically possessed the skill and stamina to beat a very average Bucks team. Over the span of the series, Milwaukee shot 44 percent from the field, 30 percent from beyond the arc, and 68 percent from the free throw line (thank you, Giannis). For all his single-handed efforts to thwart a nagging and ever-resilient Bucks side, Durant ultimately failed by a shoe size.
Hate to make this comparison, but might as well get it out of the way now: LeBron James did what Durant couldn’t.
Only the OG Cavs fans will remember this: on what may be his worst championship contending team ever, a 22-year-old LeBron put Eric Snow, Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas on his shoulders and led them to the Finals. LeBron’s more recent Finals appearances (2016-2018) with the Cavaliers compare better to Durant’s situation, given the common denominator of Irving. Still, LeBron got farther than Durant did (and even with the bumbling faults of J.R. Smith and Co.).
But on paper, Durant also shouldn’t have been as good as he was this year. Read it again: Durant should not have been that good.
The man was recovering from a torn Achilles, which most people had already forgotten about given his superhuman performances. Durant recorded 48 points, 6 assists, and 9 rebounds in Game 7 against the Bucks, and posted even better numbers in his legendary Game 5 performance. He’s not a choker. Sure, he had that terrible Finals stint in Oklahoma years ago, but he’s averaged more than 30 points in every Game 7 of his career. Without playing the “What If?” card, Durant played as well as he possibly could have in his first season (and postseason) back from injury, shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 35.2 percent from three in the semifinals. It just wasn’t enough.
Credit to Milwaukee, they showed up for Game 7. Mike Budenholzer shortened his rotation, Brook Lopez played a monster game, Khris Middleton redefined clutch by shooting 5-of-9 between the fourth and OT, and there’s a whole list of other takeaways for the Bucks.
For the Nets, their early playoff exit doesn’t spell doom, or disgrace, or any of those D-words (except for a bit of disappointment). Nor does it mean Durant won’t work extra hard this offseason to finally win a ring with (not in spite of) his Brooklyn teammates.
Kevin Durant doesn’t deserve your hate, but he’s still working to earn his keep in Brooklyn. Sit down. Calm down. Let him earn it.