If the Stephen Curry moment, and game, against the Oklahoma City Thunder last Saturday night signaled his Mount Rushmore position, then Thursday night just represented another vanquished opponent beat down by the inevitable. Like the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, LeBron James, and now Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors opponents have gone from excited to hopeful to angry to bitter, and finally, accepting. The 121-106 Warriors victory didn't necessarily end the season with this 3-game season sweep but the mental edge is built, building, and crushing the shoulders of Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After the collapse against the Los Angeles Clippers, Durant sat at his locker and frustratingly pointed out in almost LeBron James-esque manner, "We want to be a great team. We're fooling ourselves." After a loss the next day to a significantly better basketball team in Oakland, Durant sat at his locker again, voice barely above a whisper, and proclaimed over and over again how proud he was of his team, how they just missed open shots, and now was the time to grow together with their backs against the wall.
The much less terse interview gave way to a clearer thought process of the Thunder's best player, and for the past few seasons, the greatest basketball player in the world. As Durant has failed to solve the Warriors as a team over and over again, the coping has become unfortunately easier. He himself has ripped open the amoeba-style wing defense but never the ultimate victory. Forced to face the reality of the situation two nights in a row, Durant gave his team zero excuses to a less superior and flawed Clippers team in a 20-point collapse. 24 hours later, like Dwyane Wade in Miami after their loss, Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, and the retired players of the past, the realization is becoming clear. Just losing by a small margin is good enough at this point.
Everyone knows and understands, no team is beating the Golden State Warriors right now. So we search. Durant, left searching, this time against a better team, provided a thought process worth noting if only in the finality of it all.
"This is an exciting time for me. I'm happy that we're going through this because like I said it's easy to be, we don't want to be frontrunners. That's not who we are. That's not who I am. And I'm not going to let the team be that way. When you're losing that's when you really got to show your character and show who you are."
While LeBron James is hyperventilating in Cleveland, Miami, wherever he is, Durant is hoping this seemingly hopeless venture against the Warriors is a spin towards growth and progress. And yet, again, the Thunder threw everything and came up oh so short.
Shaun Livingston backed down a talking Dion Waiters repeatedly. Harrison Barnes fired off one of the lowest of keys 14/7/5 games in NBA history. Leandro Barbosa scored in opportune moments. Marreese Speights is Kevin Love-esque on offense when the 3 is rolling. The Warriors didn't get much from Stephen Curry until late, or Draymond Green on offense, yet there was never a doubt. No matter the deficit, these Warriors played as free as ever, down 9 late in the 3rd quarter, and launching Hail Mary passes downcourt.
The 2016 Warriors are the frontrunners that Durant doesn't want to become. Fortunately enough, they're able to function at their Peak whether they're in front or behind.
And when the Warriors bench made their run in the beginning of the 4th quarter against the Durant-led second unit, it cemented one of the more harrowing moments of this season and game. As Speights rallied the crowd, Barbosa gesturing to the bench for more flying shoulder bumps, and the starters soaring off the bench in unbridled joy, there was one Thunder player staring at them dancing on their home floor.
No matter what Durant says off the court, there's him talking with Steve Kerr more than any opposing player in the NBA. And during the deciding run where the league's best team beat their greatest contender with depth and passing, Kevin Durant could only stare over at the opposing team, alone as ever, wondering, well, what could possibly happen?