The Golden State Warriors are back in the NBA Finals after bulldozing their way through the Portland Trail Blazers in a Western Conference finals sweep.
That sweep notably came without the contributions of Kevin Durant, who missed the entire series due to a left calf strain suffered in Game 5 of the Warriors’ series against the Houston Rockets. Durant’s status for the NBA Finals remains uncertain, but the Warriors ripping off four straight wins has led to an uncomfortable narrative emerging.
You’ve probably seen the jaw-dropping statistic by now: the Warriors are 31-1 in their last 32 games played with Stephen Curry and without Kevin Durant. That has been enough ammunition for some to propose quite the theory, that the Warriors are simply a better team without Durant and his 30.1 usage percentage with the team.
Durant, always the social media warrior, has definitely seen the idea thrown out there. As you can imagine, he’s not a fan.
Kevin Durant on the Warriors being better without him: ‘That’s not facts’
Speaking with reporters on Friday, Durant couldn’t provide much clarity on when exactly he’ll return during the Finals, but he did take some time to shrug off chatter that it might be best for the Warriors if he stayed on the bench.
"It's hard to get away from that because I watch the game, and you watch the lead-up to the games, and that's all everybody is talking about," Durant said. "My perspective is just, like, I want to focus on rehab, but I also want to be a fan of my teammates. I want to enjoy my teammates from a different view. A lot of those guys sit in a chair and cheer for the rest of the guys, the starting guys, and now I get an opportunity to do the same thing. I turn on the TV, and since I can't travel with the team, all I hear is the noise.
"As a player, I think about that — I'm just like, that's not true. That's not facts when it comes from a basketball perspective. The competitive side of me — I also like to talk basketball as well — so if you're going to say something like that, I'm going to engage in it. So it's all fun, it's all cool, but I know the real."
Of course, this is more of the same of what Durant has experienced ever since he shifted the league’s balance of power three summers ago. Never mind that the Warriors have since lost only a single game against LeBron James over the course of two Finals after infamously losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
That complicated place in Warriors history is something Durant doesn’t seem to mind as long as he feels his team values him correctly:
"It's been that way since I got here," said Durant, who seemed engaged and optimistic about his return to the court at some point in the near future. "It's been that way since I got here — 'It's the Warriors and KD.' I understand that, and I felt like my teammates and the organization know exactly what I've done here off and on the court to become a part of this culture, stamp my flag in this culture and this organization. ... I know what I bring to the team, but I also know a lot of people on the outside don't like to see us together, and I get it."
Clearly, Durant will have an interesting legacy, and we’ll probably have to wait a few more years to really see how much credit for the Warriors’ success he ends up getting. It really depends on if the Warriors remain their historically dominant selves without Durant and if he turns his next team into a true title contender.
For now, we’ll just have to see what kind of shift his return creates in the Finals against the Toronto Raptors or Milwaukee Bucks.
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