One of the most basic principles of leadership, in sports as well as in the business world, is to always show your teammates that you’re behind them in everything they do, giving them ample credit for every success.
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr is a master at this, one reason his Warriors finished first in the NBA Western Conference this year and look like a legitimate contender to return to the Finals for the fifth straight year.
Kerr also played with Michael Jordan during the Chicago Bulls’ second “three-peat” between 1996 and ’98, and is often asked to compare his Warriors teams that he coaches with those Bulls teams led by His Airness a generation ago. With that in mind, Kerr just compared Kevin Durant to Jordan in a way that … well, maybe the stats might line up, but it still seems to be more than a bit of a stretch.
Durant has been on fire in the last five playoff games, scoring at least 30 points in each of those contests.
During Game 1 of the Rockets series, a game Golden State won 104-100 behind Durant’s 35-point performance on 11-of-25 shooting, he passed Larry Bird for 11th on the all-time career playoff scoring list.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) April 28, 2019
And with a total of more than 200 points in those five games, including 50 in the series-clinching Game 6 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, Durant joins LeBron James, Jordan and Jerry West as the only four players to score 200 points, dish 25 assists and pull down 25 rebounds or more in a five-game stretch of any postseason in NBA history.
With today’s performance, Kevin Durant becomes one of four players to average 40+ PTS, 5+ REB, 5+ AST over a five game span within one postseason. He joins Jerry West (1965), Michael Jordan (1988, 1989, 1990, 1993), and LeBron James (2009, 2018). @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/GC431JsOnA
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) April 28, 2019
Kerr started up the Jordan comparisons as he joked with media following the Game 1 victory Sunday.
“There’s this guy named Michael something,” Kerr said to laughs from the media members in attendance. “Can’t remember his last name. No, but Kevin’s run this past week has just been off the charts. I’ve said it a few times this week: He’s the most skilled basketball player on Earth. He’s one of the most skilled basketball players to ever play the game. There’s never been anybody like him. Six-[foot]-11, handles the ball, shoots 3s, passes, defends. He’s just an unbelievable talent. And I think after we lost Game 2 to the Clippers, I think he just felt like he had to turn it up and lift us up another level. That’s exactly what he’s done.”
That Game 2 loss involved the Warriors blowing a 31-point lead, to a chorus of “3-1 lead” jokes all over NBA Twitter. When the Warriors lost Game 5 despite Durant’s 45 points in that game, those 3-1 lead jokes intensified before order was restored in hostile territory in Game 6.
Durant’s teammate Draymond Green, whose nine assists were powered partially by the big man making shots, had praise for Oakland’s favorite mercenary.
“He’s playing great right now,” Green said. “He’s being extremely aggressive, and when he’s being aggressive as he’s being, I don’t think there’s anyone in the NBA, maybe the world, that can stop him. So when he’s being aggressive like that, that’s always a positive for us. It’s a challenge for the opposing team.”
Durant, to his credit, downplayed the Jordan talk.
“I try not to compare,” Durant said. “Each stop along the journey has been — I’ve just been tailor-made for the moment, I guess. I learned a lot so far as a player up until this point, so I think I’m starting to put everything together on both sides of the ball. I’m not looking at points or shots that I get up, just how focused I am for each possession.”
“Each step along the journey” is an interesting choice of phrase, especially since Durant’s former teammate Russell Westbrook just got bounced from the playoffs by the Portland Trail Blazers. The Oklahoma City Thunder are just 4-12 total in three first-round exits since Durant took his talents to Golden State following the 2015-16 season, a season in which the Warriors rallied from 3-1 down in the Western Conference Finals against Durant’s Thunder squad.
Stephen Curry, whose own explosiveness has been limited by ankle injuries this season, had kind words of his own for his teammate.
“He has been amazing,” Curry said of Durant. “He’s been so aggressive on the offense end. Found his matchups, taking his shots. Defensively he’s been present. He just understands kind of what we need when we need it. And he’s been playing with the ultimate confidence. I know he always has confidence, but it seems like it’s been amped up in these last five games.”
Is Durant on Michael Jordan’s level? Of course not. Jordan won six championships with the team that drafted him and became as synonymous with Chicago as Italian beef sandwiches and deep-dish pizza. No athlete — not even LeBron in Cleveland — has had so much of an impact on his city in the history of sports.
But what Durant does have is two Finals MVP trophies, a pair of championship rings, and a growing reputation for being the backstop that the Warriors needed when their shooters went cold in the 2016 Finals. He is undeniably one of the all-time greats and a key reason the Warriors are where they are right now, up 1-0 in the conference semifinals after surviving a live underdog in the first round.
When Game 2 tips off Tuesday, we’ll see if Durant can keep rolling with the hot hand or if James Harden and the Rockets can slow the Warriors down.
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