Kevin Durant threw up a Hail Mary pass. That’s what it looked like in the air, anyway. A heave. A spin and a prayer. A turnaround shot for the ages.
A Game 7 shot maybe no other player on the planet could have made.
Running on fumes after again playing the full 48 minutes, Durant needed every last ounce of energy and every inch of his 7-foot-5 wingspan to get the damn thing off as he faded away, 24 feet from the basket, falling toward the sideline as the pit bull defending him, P.J. Tucker, looked on. The Nets were down two when the ball left Durant’s hands, and they were tied when the ball fell through the net with 1 second left in regulation.
If you were inside Barclays Center, you will never forget the sound the crowd made when it realized the season wasn’t over after all. Madison Square Garden was never louder.
At first, Durant thought it might have been a 3 for the win.
“But my big-ass foot stepped on the line,” he said. “I just saw how close I was to ending their season with that shot.”
Somehow his incredible 2-pointer wouldn’t be enough. Durant finished with 48 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and yet still couldn’t carry these wounded Nets out of the Eastern Conference semis. In overtime, he had nothing left to give. Durant took the ball in the final seconds, down two, after playing 53 minutes, and attempted another turnaround fadeaway for the tie, this time over Jrue Holiday.
It was an airball. An airball that let all the air out of Brooklyn’s championship dreams.
As Milwaukee started to celebrate with 0.3 seconds left on the clock, an exhausted Durant lowered his head at midcourt and planted his hands on his knees. Teammates approached to console him, pat him on the back. Coach Steve Nash did the same.
“I don’t know what more Kevin can do,” Nash said. “Just out of this world.”
Durant missed all six of his field-goal attempts in overtime, and his team missed 11 of 12. So the Bucks were going to the Eastern Conference finals, and Durant was going home — perhaps in large part because James Harden was too injured to be James Harden, and Kyrie Irving was too injured to play at all.
Nash said he was hurting badly for his guys. This season was supposed to end up drenched in champagne, not tears. As much as the Bucks deserve credit for winning a Game 7 on the road, it’s hard to believe the Nets wouldn’t have advanced to the conference finals had either Harden or Irving been at full strength.
“I can’t even speak for how much we missed Kyrie out on the floor, and how much we missed James to start the series,” Durant said. “I could go for 40 minutes on both of those two, and how much they cared about us. …”
Durant called Irving’s ankle injury “gruesome.” And still, he was gracious enough to say of the Bucks, “The story should be about them and how well they played this series.”
The story also has to be about Durant, and how he greatly enhanced his legacy in defeat. Up front, understand that KD does not have much use for your conversation about the greatest NBA players who ever lived.
“Being The GOAT isn’t something that moves me,” he once tweeted.
And that’s fine. Durant does not have to participate in any such public discourse. But despite his fame and fortune and towering social-media presence (31 million followers on Twitter and Instagram), Durant does not get to control whether those debates go on without him.
LeBron James is winning the generational race, that much is clear. Even if he never matches or surpasses Michael Jordan, six-time champ, in the eyes of the sporting public, he is the favorite to remain the signature juggernaut of the post-Kobe Bryant era.
But Durant, at 32, is four years younger than James, meaning that time is on his side. Assuming he stays healthy, KD can do a lot with that time. It was assumed Durant would be somewhat diminished after he ruptured his Achilles’ in the 2019 Finals. And yet after he went for 49 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in 48 Game 5 minutes against Milwaukee, witnesses wondered if KD is even better now than he was while winning two Finals MVPs for Golden State.
Saturday night, after teammate Jeff Green predicted that he would play his heart out and win, Durant played his heart out and lost. He scored 48 points over 53 minutes on a Game 7 night when his team needed more, and his legend grew all the same.