NBA Finals: Kevin Durant responds to criticism that he can not bring a team like LeBron James

    Abdulaziz Sobh

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    Kevin Durant shrugged. The Warriors' forward barely sounded offended by the argument. Nor did he seem to be defensive about the question. But he is still aware of the comment. The Warriors will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year, starting with Game 1 on Thursday at the Oracle Arena. That establishes a rematch for the second year in a row between Durant and Cavaliers LeBron James, whose productivity in his 15th season of the NBA had led to the next charge. While James, 33, has been praised for leading the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, the 29-year-old has faced skepticism that he could do the same with a similar roster. "I can not control that," Durant told the Bay Area News Group. "I know what I bring to my team, I know my role in my team, I'm just trying to play in a way that helps us win a championship, it's the only thing I can do." What has James done? Nothing more and nothing less than leading the NBA in the postseason in points (34.0) and occupying the third place in assists (8.8) along with 13.4 rebounds in 41.3 minutes (second in the league). James also recorded 13 double-doubles, a 44-point effort in a victory in Game 4 over Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals and a 46-point victory in Game 6 over the Celtics. What has Durant done? He ranked fourth in the NBA in the postseason in points (29.0), although his rebounds (7.1) and assists (4.3) do not reach the numbers of James. Durant had 37 points in a Game 1 victory over Houston in the Western Conference Finals and 38 points in a loss in Game 2. But as the Rockets' change defense led the Warriors to include Durant more in isolation plays, its effectiveness fell in Game 4 (9 of 24), Game 5 (8 of 22) and Game 6 (6 of -17). Then, Durant recovered with 34 points in 11 of 21 shots in a Game 7 victory over Houston. Through all of that, Durant navigated the dynamic between relying on other snipers in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, while maximizing his own productivity. Arguably presents more of a problem in the first world NBA than what James has found with a supporting cast diminished after the Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to Boston last offseason. On the other hand, most of the NBA talent pool resides in the Western Conference. "We're in two different places in our game," Durant said of James. "I'm still learning, I'm still growing up and finding out things, I feel like he's who he is at this point, he's experienced a lot more than I. Then he's looking at it from a different point of view, but that's the beauty of basketball. guys with different roads and different routes and they meet on the court, it's magical and it's fun. " Durant helped the Warriors produce magic in the last year at James' expense. Durant won his first NBA championship and the Finals MVP award after averaging 35.2 points with 55.6 percent shooting in 39.8 minutes per game. Durant made the triple with 45.3 seconds over James that secured the Warriors' victory in Game 3 over Cleveland. In an interview earlier this year with Bay Area News Group, Durant argued that his NBA title, the Finals MVP award and triple goals showed he is "on the same level as James."I do not know how he made everyone else feel, but I know he made my friends and family feel proud," Durant said. "I want to do that again for them, I know how hard it was to do that no matter if we won in five [games]." Every night was difficult. The Warriors are not expected to have as much difficulty with Cleveland as they did with Houston. James could complicate things, however. And Durant could determine to a large extent how it develops. While James will likely assume a more significant scoring load for the Cavaliers, Durant will likely combine his scoring with Curry and Thompson. With Warriors forward Andre Iguodala missing the last four postseason games with a bruise on his left knee with no definite return date, Durant could protect James more than usual. In the Warriors' victory over Cleveland on Christmas Day this season, Durant made three defensive stops over James at the end of the game that the league said in its two-minute report that it should have been framed. And then there's the last comment about James that could be said to be more valuable to the Cavaliers than Durant to the Warriors. "No matter what they say or not, you want to prove that your unbelievers are wrong, we've all been like this," Durant said. "Every human being has been like that, there has been something in your life, you will use it as fuel and you will use it to push yourself in. But, at the same time, I just want to focus on how we can win the game and how to win the series." Durant believes he feels better prepared for that responsibility after playing against the Rockets in seven postseason games. Prior to that pairing, Durant elicited praise from the Warriors for balancing his scoring instincts as he elevated his teammates. During the regular season 2017-18, Durant averaged 26.4 points while shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 5.4 assists, numbers that are somewhat similar to his career averages (27.1 points with 49 percent shooting, 3.9 assists). Durant showed similar efficiency in the Warriors' first-round series against San Antonio (28.2 points with 48 percent shooting, 5.2 assists) and the second-round showdown against New Orleans (27.8 points with 50.5 percent shooting, 4.8 assists). The Warriors also praised Durant for his moderate leadership style with his work habits, as well as the positive reinforcement and constructive criticism he offered behind the scenes. After producing a constant line chart during those games, Durant's work in Houston came in waves. Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni admitted the inevitable that Durant will score whenever he wants in Games 1 and 2. Houston soon discovered otherwise. His relentless change, along with inconsistent Golden State shots, led Durant to become a high-volume shooter. So much so that Warriors coach Steve Kerr pressed Durant during a Game 5 loss to rely more on his teammates. Durant took advantage of those struggles to "love him too much". Durant admitted that he forced shots, drove too fast to the basket and relied too much on his footwork and fakes instead of reading the defense.
    "I decided to just say, 'Forget it, just touch the hoop and play the ball,'" Durant said. "I just tried to go out and play as much as I could on the defensive side of the ball and let my offense revert, while the games before I thought about my offense would go into the game," Durant vowed to not only think about his offense against Cleveland. After all, he will defend James sometimes. On the other hand, Durant promised the apathy of how a hand-to-hand pairing could determine individual bragging rights and comparative legacies. "I can not think of myself more than trying to help the team win," Durant said. "We play a team sport, it's about victory."


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