CLEVELAND-Kevin Durant’s first trip to the NBA Finals ended with him watching LeBron James celebrate his first title as Miami downed Oklahoma City for the 2012 crown.
Now five years later and with two different clubs, both superstars are back in the finals, Durant still seeking his first title and James again blocking the path.
Durant and the Golden State Warriors will be favored to dethrone the James-led Cleveland Cavaliers when the best-of-seven championship series begins at Oakland, California.
Instead of James having drawn criticism for jilting Cleveland for Miami in order to become a champion, this season it was Durant who aroused the ire of many fans by ditching fellow star Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City for the Superteam spotlight of the Warriors.
And just as a move paid championship dividends for James after a prior finals loss, it could do the same in June for Durant.
“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said of his latest trip to the finals compared to his first. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship.
“So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind. But you’ve got to enjoy everything, man. When we look at it, this is just a blip on the radar in terms of our whole life. So every moment is definitely important and you want to embrace it and enjoy it.”
And just as James struggled in building chemistry in Miami with “Big Three” teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Durant and his new Golden State teammates had to make adjustments to maximize the contributions of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green as well.
“Our chemistry is getting better and better,” Durant said. “We’re going to need it even more now.”
‘It’s going to be a battle’ -
The Warriors have the best start in NBA playoff history at 12-0. They are the ninth team in league history to reach the finals undefeated, in eras with fewer games needed to make the championship round, but only five of the first eight won the title.
“I’m just proud of the work we’ve put in from the beginning of the season,” Durant said. “We just kept grinding. We didn’t talk about championships or anything. We just wanted to build good habits and have fun playing some basketball. Simple as that.
“We want to take it to the next series and try to be great and see what happens, but 12-0 really doesn’t matter going into the next series,” Durant said.
“We know it’s going to be a battle.”
Durant took heat for leaving behind a solid Oklahoma City squad that pushed the Warriors to the brink of elimination in last year’s Western Conference final, but the move has paid off so far.
Durant is averaging 25.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.2 blocked shots a game in the Warriors’ perfect playoff start.
“Happy to be sharing this moment with him after all he’s gone through with joining the squad and leaving OKC,” Green said. “To be headed to the NBA Finals is a great way to combat all that talk. To win it would be even better.
“He didn’t make the decision he made to go to the finals. He made the decision he made for his own life and what he wanted to do, but also to win a championship. To go win. Not just go to the finals. No one remembers second place. It’s about winning.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue has been impressed with what he has seen from Durant with the Warriors.
“When Steph and Klay have a bad game, which is not very often, then you can give the ball to Durant and he can go get his own basket and his own shot,” Lue said.
“You have that third player, definitely one of the top three players in this league, that can go get his own shot at anytime and that’s what makes them more dangerous.”