- ESPN.com NBA writer since 2010
- Covered Cleveland Cavs for seven years
- Author of two books
When an all-time great player is having an all-time great game, especially in the NBA playoffs, there’s a feeling that starts to envelop an arena as people start to realize this is a time-and-place moment.
The collective adrenaline forces perspective on the spectators — and that can include the players and coaches from both teams — and they can’t help but hold on to the memory of how they experienced it as much as the sight of seeing it happen.
Kevin Durant did that to the Barclays Center on Tuesday night in the Brooklyn Nets’ 114-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, as the Nets took an improbable 3-2 lead in this Eastern Conference semifinal series by overcoming significant odds and a 17-point deficit.
And we know one person who’s holding on to it.
“You know, he’s the best player in the world right now,” Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said after his own 34 points and 12 rebounds were relegated.
How will it be remembered? Forty-nine points in 48 minutes. The pursing of his lips as he looked skyward after his dagger 3-pointer. Or just referring to it as “Game 5.”
Talk about NBA ratings. Talk about too many games and too many injuries. Talk about too many replays or 3-pointers or too much offense all you want. The reason people are drawn to NBA basketball at the highest level is to take a small part in a game like Durant provided.
“I was able to rack up some points,” Durant said dryly. “I did play every minute, so that helped with my point total.”
That was part of Durant’s attempts to be understated afterward, partly because he knows the series isn’t over and partly because it probably just felt good to act like this was just another box score for the files.
Which, of course, isn’t true. He had 17 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Strangely, though, the enormity of the stats doesn’t quite capture it. It was much more relatable seeing him rise over and over and over to make those silky jumpers above defenders. Criticize the Bucks’ defense or Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer not assigning Antetokounmpo to him or not double-teaming him; all nine of Durant’s jumpers in the fourth quarter were heavily contested. He made six.
“What can I tell you, it’s not ideal,” Nets coach Steve Nash said of not taking Durant out of the game. “But if we didn’t play him 48, probably weren’t winning tonight. It’s a tough decision; it’s an easy decision that’s very tough to make.”
Late NBA commissioner David Stern used to offer the sage wisdom that the greatness of the game and its players always wins out. The flaws of those who play, manage, coach or officiate get shoved to irrelevance when you see the grace of Durant rising up to hit such a volume of impossible-looking shots.
“Kevin’s game was just unbelievable,” said James Harden, who has been in this realm a time or two in his career, though let’s be honest, not in a playoff situation quite like this. “He was unfazed the entire game.”
Everything about Harden’s night was ridiculous — that he was listed as out the day before and went from doubtful to questionable to in the starting lineup in a span of 12 hours. That he had $100 in elastic therapeutic tape curling all over his right leg in some desperate attempt to keep his hamstring attached to his femur. That he could barely run or cut and still played 46 — forty-six! — minutes. That he went 1-of-10 shooting and was still deeply appreciated by his teammates.
There could be a novella written on Harden’s day. But it’s a footnote.
Durant has a bunch of nicknames. Durantula. Slim Reaper. KD, of course. But the best one is probably Easy Money Sniper. He likes it so much, it’s his Instagram handle. Some of his friends just call him Easy Money. It enters the mind in moments like this, those who know him best whispering “Easy Money” as those shots keep going down.
That’s maybe what was most remarkable about the whole thing, Durant really did make it look easy. Analyze him to death, but those plays define his career. What a way to have a defining game.
“To be honest, I don’t even rank or look at the performances,” Durant said. “Once they happen, I just try to move on and see if I can do it again. It was a fun game to be a part of. There was a lot of games in my career that I felt were just as fun. I’m sure when I reflect on it, we can talk about it again, but for now, it was great that we got the W.”
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