Kevin Durant became immortal.
Before Game 5, KD was known mostly for moments outside of basketball or only tangential to basketball. His mom was the real MVP. His next chapter is embedded in our brains, along with his fondness for Rihanna.
For all his greatness – the MVP award, two championships, multiple scoring titles – Durant lacked a “moment". Any talk of legacy is arbitrary, yet every superstar has one or many games that encapsulate their greatness. Magic Johnson's transcendent talent was fully apparent in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals when he led the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-less Los Angeles Lakers to the title with a triple-double against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Hakeem Olajuwon showed he should never be compared to David Robinson when he punked the San Antonio Spurs in the 1994 playoffs on the same game Robinson received his MVP award. Michael Jordan has a documentary series dedicated to all his moments. He pretty much single-handedly destroyed the New York Knicks in the ‘90s.
LeBron James was anointed the savior of the league in the post-Jordan era even before he was drafted. He ascended to greatness in 2007 when he dragged the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Detroit Pistons in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Yesterday, Kevin Durant finally got his moment. Game 5 of this second round series against the Milwaukee Bucks came from a ball of drama that spiraled and that KD had virtually no control over – from the untimely injuries to his two co-stars to the cold-shooting of the other Brooklyn Nets. Facing a hungry and healthier Bucks squad with a limping James Harden as their second-best player, the Nets were dead in the water.
They looked like they were out of it especially midway through the third quarter when the Bucks established a 76-60 lead. Only Durant and Jeff Green, who was playing his second game in the playoffs due to a foot injury, were powering the Nets’ offense. Joe Harris was missing shots. All Harden could do was jog and pass.
Then Durant took over. That feeling of all of being on a big stage with millions watching and expecting greatness from you will always be foreign to most of us mere mortals. We can only wonder what was going through Durant's mind as he weaved one of the best moments in NBA history.
Durant pulled every trick in the book. Like a supercomputer assimilating information in milliseconds, Durant quickly found a solution for every Milwaukee adjustment. Put PJ Tucker on him? He called for a pick and attack Brook Lopez. Going small and switching everything? Durant got screens from whoever Bryn Forbes was guarding and reacted to any rotation. Try to force the ball out of his hands with traps? He found his open teammates.
Contrary to what the Twitter experts surmised, Milwaukee Coach Mike Budenhozer tried everything. It's just none of it worked. Brooklyn coach Steve Nash’s best decision this entire playoffs was making no decision at all. He let Durant play all 48 minutes.
Durant collected 49 points on 16-for-23 shooting, with 17 rebounds and 10 assists, the first time any player wound up with such a stat line. You know this type of performance had to be special because Milwaukee's own star, their two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo tried, but couldn’t save his team when it came down to the final minute. For everything that makes Giannis freaky, he's no KD.
There are very few players like KD. There are plenty of All-Stars. But very few can single-handedly take over a game when they need to. There are a lot of Hall of Famers. But only a select few can answer when the moment beckons. Durant was built to be legendary.