The NBA Playoffs’ most talked about sliding door moment never entered Kevin Durant’s mind when he watched Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy from his room in Tokyo, Japan.
Durant and his Brooklyn Nets were reduced to being a footnote of the Bucks’ title run this season.
Kyrie Irving sprained his ankle. James Harden played hurt. Durant came a couple of inches away from eliminating the Bucks. But alas, the basketball gods smiled on the Greek Freak.
“I’m not really [thinking about what could have been],” Durant said on Wednesday after Team USA practice. “You don’t play for moral victories. You only want to be the last team standing in the NBA Finals. We understand how good we are and not just go push the Bucks [to seven games].”
“Our goal is to win it. Unfortunately, we didn’t. Congrats to the Bucks, an amazing team who fought through a lot the last two years to get to this point. I have a lot of respect for them.”
The super team in Brooklyn, which was supposed to steamroll its way to the Nets’ first NBA championship, could not be healthy enough to stay together on the floor.
Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo bucked a hyperextended knee in the playoffs and capped off his dominant NBA Finals run with a 50-piece and five blocks.
Seven years ago, Antetokounmpo promised he would not leave the city without winning a championship. He followed through by signing the supermax extension. The Bucks’ front office repaid his loyalty with boom-or-bust moves, including the botched trade for Bogdan Bognadovic that cost them a second-round pick. The Jrue Holiday trade paled in comparison to the Nets’ all-in move to acquire Harden. But they beat the Nets to the draw in trading for Harden’s former Houston Rockets teammate PJ Tucker.
“It’s easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else,’’ Antetokounmpo said. “I could go — I don’t want to put anybody on the spot — but I could go to a super team and just do my part and win a championship. But this is the hard way to do it, and this is the way to do it and we f—–g did it.”
Durant was never asked to react to Antetokounmpo’s postgame remark. But he came away impressed with how the Bucks build their championship team.
“It was good to see Milwaukee forming some sort of a dynasty with that team,” Durant said. “I know it’s the first championship. I know a lot of people will call you a dynasty after a few [titles]. The continuity of that team is something that is impressive. How they continue to keep building and adding and now they’re a champion. So you can appreciate that.”
The Bucks are guaranteed to have Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Holiday, and Brook Lopez together until the 2022-23 season. Durant will have another shot at the Bucks next season, provided Brooklyn’s Big 3 will be healthy.
But in a couple of days, he will have to set aside the rivalry and join forces with Middleton and Holiday at Team USA and welcome Phoenix Suns’ rising star Devin Booker, who could still be reeling from that stinging loss, squandering a 2-0 lead, to the squad.
“We got respect for these guys. That experience doesn’t happen to just anybody. You respect those guys that went through that journey,” Durant said.
“You see a young team like Phoenix, who everybody has been counting out in the last five to six years. And now they made themselves into a contender and hopefully become a contender moving forward in the West,” he added.
Durant has been both on the opposite side of the spectrum. Before becoming a multiple NBA champion with the Warriors, Durant, like Booker, lost a young team in Oklahoma City. So he knows the feeling.
But they need Booker to recover quickly. They need Middleton and Holiday to chill down from the euphoria of winning their first championship. They have a mission in Tokyo. A goal that looked vulnerable at the onset with the missing players due to COVID-19 issues and different circumstances.
“I think there will definitely be adjustments just with the quick turnaround. But those guys know what they’re getting into themselves when they made the commitment a few weeks back,” Durant said. “They had an understanding of what this journey is and they have an extra couple of weeks added on to their postseason now. We’re looking forward to those guys coming in and we understand that it will take a while for them to take their legs back under them, calm down from all the hype of the NBA Finals but we can’t wait to incorporate them.”
Durant has already moved on from a lost NBA season. His eyes are set on a different prize.
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