“I’ve been second my whole life. I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I’ve been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I’m tired of being second. I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.”
These were the words of Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant in a recent article done by Sport’s Illustrated and they reflect much of his career. Throughout his high school career, Durant was regarded as the second best high school prospect in the nation behind Greg Oden. This carried all the way through college and even the draft where Durant was selected second overall by the Seattle Supersonics after the Portland Trailblazers selected Greg Oden first overall. Their careers ended up very differently and despite the success Durant has had in the league, LeBron James outdoes him. James has won the MVP multiple times with Durant placing second. James won his first championship by beating Durant and OKC.
LeBron James has continued to prove why he is the best player in basketball year after year. Last year when he finally won his first championship, he put many critics to rest. While he still has his fair share of critics, James’ consistent play makes it hard to find a good argument against him. Over the last few years, James has become one of the most criticized athletes in all of professional sports, starting mainly from his lavish decision to leave Cleveland to pursue a championship in Miami. When the Big Three’s inaugural season ended with a lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals, LeBron’s poor performance during the fourth quarter in the series gave critics a reason to label LeBron as “unclutch” and “unreliable”. James has since proven many times that he has improved and rarely puts a poor performance including during the playoffs. Durant and LeBron both are surrounded by talented teammates that have no doubt contributed to their success. LeBron has the likes of Bosh and Wade who help make the Heat one of the best teams in the league while Durant has Westbrook and Martin to help carry the load. This playoff run started off a lot different for Durant as he lost his All Star sidekick in Westbrook to a season ending knee injury early in the first round. Many belive this was the perfect opportunity to help Durant prove himself more at the NBA level. After all he said he is tired of always being second, so why not go prove your case that you are the best player in the league by leading your team throughout the playoffs?
The Memphis Grizzlies are such a well-balanced team it’s scary. Just ask Chris Paul and the Clippers who had huge expectations going in to the postseason, after having such a great regular season. Despite all of the Clippers talent, they couldn’t even get past the first round. Why? Because of the Memphis Grizzlies. So what do the Grizzlies do when they play the number one seed in the West with a player like Kevin Durant on the other team? They not only beat them, but they fully contain Kevin Durant. During the regular season, leading up to the trade deadline, rumors swirled that the Grizzlies were likely going to trade Rudy Gay who at the time was Memphis’ leading scorer. Already having a great regular season, people believed their was no reason they should trade Gay. Well they did and in return they got Tayshaun Prince, a seasoned veteran who had played his entire career with the Detroit Pistons as well as some bench pieces that included Austin Daye and Ed Davis. Prince brought valuable playoff knowledge and he can still shoot definitely, however, the Grizzlies front office received plenty of criticism and many wondered if the Grizzlies could still be a dominant team without their number one scorer. Well right now the Memphis front office looks like a bunch of geniuses as Tayshaun Prince showed he’s still go it with his defensive play especially during the fourth quarter. Who was he guarding ? Kevin Durant.
Durant gave everything he could in this series, but he showed that all those years of success he’s had in the league have been in part because of Westbrook. Until now many consider Durant a clutched shooter, but the critics have come in droves as he was not the elite shooter he usually is. Without Westbrook’s presence there, Durant was forced to make many more plays than usual especially the last final games against the Grizzlies, he’d come out empty-handed. Durant has never had many critics in the past, but next season come the playoffs he will be under the microscope more than ever. For years LeBron went through the same phase, as he was often deemed “unclutch, “LeChoke”, and an assortment of other nicknames. Right now, it’s safe to say those critics have been put to rest after he has proven to be very reliable during the fourth quarter the past two seasons. The future for Durant looks very bright, no doubt, but this playoff series has definitely left several questions and no doubt shown Durant has a long way to go before he can be deemed the best.