Kevin Durant With a Playoff Performance for the Ages

49 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists on a ridiculous 16-23 shooting. No Kyrie, James Harden in the game but basically a decoy the entire night. Series tied 2-2, everyone calling you dead in the water.

This is one for the history books. He played all 48 minutes. Didn’t sit at all.

He hit a huge three late to put the Nets up four with 50 seconds to play. It wasn’t a dagger, but it was close. It was a massive shot. Had he missed, Milwaukee would have had the opportunity to go ahead by one or two.

And it was to beat the shot clock, too. Just legendary.

I said when Kyrie went down that we were going to have to see the “old” KD, the KD from before he had it easy with his super teams. We saw him. In fact, this might have been even better than the old KD. This was legitimately one of the greatest playoff performances in NBA history.

With Harden playing at like, 10% of his normal abilities, it was all on KD in this game. Harden played 46 minutes and went 1-10 from the field for 5 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. Clearly he was nowhere close to being ready for the game, but he went out there anyway and tried to help his team in any way he could. So props to him. There’s no way he would’ve played this game if Kyrie hadn’t gotten hurt.

When the Nets were getting smoked in the first half, it reminded me a bit of Lakers vs. Suns game 6, when AD tried to play on his strained groin but just couldn’t do a thing, and the Lakers were basically playing 4 vs. 5 because of how severely limited AD was. It looked like the Nets were playing 4 vs. 5. Harden couldn’t contribute a thing on offense and he was a major liability on defense.

But he did have those 8 assists, and somehow, Brooklyn was +4 when Harden was on the court when all was said and done.

There is one more player on the Nets who deserves a standing ovation: Jeff Green. Brooklyn does not win this game without him, point blank. My man was 7-8 from three for 27 points in 35 minutes. Talk about stepping up. Green is averaging 5.7 points per game this postseason, and he goes off for 27. Incredible.

He won’t get talked about because of how great KD’s performance was, but if Jeff Green had an average night in that game, it wouldn’t have mattered if KD went for 60, they still would’ve lost.

As for the Bucks: these boys are not ready for prime time. They just aren’t. This series was theirs for the taking. Harden couldn’t do anything–all they had to do was basically not let KD go for 50 and they were probably going to win this and take control of the series. But they couldn’t get it done. They went into the half up 16, and had a 14 point lead about midway through the 3rd quarter. When they were up 74-57 with 7:03 to go in the 3rd, ESPN said they had a 94.2% chance of winning.

And they blew it.

They only scored 21 points in the 4th quarter. They just imploded. Nobody stepped up to the plate. Why wasn’t Giannis–the 2x MVP, 2020 Defensive Player of the Year, and 3x First Team All Defense–sticking KD late?

What is the point of having Giannis if not for moments like that? KD went 6-9 from the floor in the 4th quarter, and the Bucks didn’t feel the need to at least try to switch up their defensive approach toward him?

CJ McCollum wanted to know, too:

There’s so many questions about Milwaukee’s decision making in that game, honestly. Kevin Wildes summed it up pretty well:

The story will be about KD and rightly so, but Milwaukee could’ve had that game. It’s not telling the full story of the game to not at least acknowledge that the Bucks choked.

I don’t want to crush Giannis because he did have a great game: 14-22 from the floor, 34 points and 12 boards. But he just doesn’t have the tools to go toe-to-toe with KD when the game’s on the line. He’s just not on KD’s level. You can ask KD to go iso and manufacture a bucket. I don’t think you can ask that of Giannis. It’s just not in his game. Despite all the accolades, he’s just not a “last two minutes of the game” guy. He’s a liability at the free throw line late in the game: in the final 1:14, he went 2-4 from the line. One miss could’ve tied the game at 106 with 1:14 to go, the next could’ve made it 111-109 with 12.5 seconds to go.

The Bucks just couldn’t close this one out. Khris Middleton had 25, but he was 8-22 shooting including 1-6 in the 4th quarter. Jrue Holliday had 19 (and 8 assists), but he was 7-16, 2-6 in the 4th.

The bottom line is, in today’s NBA, you need an elite wing scorer who can go into iso late in the game and get a bucket multiple ways. Khris Middleton has been that guy for Milwaukee in the past, but he’s just not consistent enough to count on. That’s the difference between Milwaukee and Brooklyn.

This series isn’t over. But it feels like it’s over. Kyrie might be back for game 6. Harden didn’t appear to suffer any setbacks on his hamstring so I’m assuming he’ll be healthier for game 6, but definitely not fully healthy.

Most of all, though, this was a demoralizing loss for the Bucks. They had Brooklyn on the ropes. They were up huge in the third quarter. All they had to do was close it out. And they couldn’t do it. It feels like one of those losses that takes a really long time to recover from.

***

This is the KD we all want to see. We don’t want to see him on cruise control because he knows he has a super team behind him. That’s basically how it’s been since he went to Golden State. Like, yeah, he’ll have some great games and go for 40+, but his team would also be winning by 20+.

This, right here, is what super teams have taken away from us. Games like that.

We’ve seen LeBron and MJ go up against overwhelming odds in the postseason and put up massive numbers. We’ve never really seen KD have to do it until last night. And that, to me, is the true mark of an all-time great; where his team is clearly out-matched, but he singlehandedly tilts the odds simply because nobody on the other team–or in the entire league–is on his level.

It was a “Force of Nature” game. Luka had a few of them in the first round against the Clippers, where his team was clearly inferior but it didn’t matter because he was so far and away the best player on the floor. Kevin Durant was a true Force of Nature last night.

You think about something like a hurricane: we carefully plan and build our civilization and society, and it can all be wiped out in an instant by the primal forces of nature, such as a hurricane or a tsunami or an earthquake.

That was KD last night. The Bucks had it all planned out carefully; they were the healthier team, they had the lead for first two and a half quarters of the game. All seemed to be going well for them, they were on track to win–and then Kevin Durant happened.

It was one of the few moments in his career where we got to see KD fully unleashed; where his team needed him to give literally everything he can possibly give. When he was in OKC, he had Westbrook who not only could score and do a lot, but also shot a lot and took a lot of possessions away from KD. As good as KD and Westbrook were together, it’s hard to deny that Westbrook somewhat lowered KD’s ceiling because of how ball-dominant Westbrook was. In Golden State, it was basically three years of Easy Street for KD. He never really had to red-line it because nobody else came close to the firepower that team had. There might have been stretches in certain games where KD had to go full Super Saiyan for the Warriors, but never entire games.

Last night, we finally got to see a game where KD’s team needed everything from him.

I don’t yet know where it ranks among the all-time greatest playoff performances in NBA history. I’ll try to figure that out later. But it’s way up there.

Octavian

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