Legacies are a funny thing - how quickly they change, how revisionist it can be for those involved or watching from afar and how time will always have its hand in contributing to what or how we choose to remember things.
The 2019 Finals presents itself to be a cross roads for all its key players, the NBA and its fans. It’s the first Finals without LeBron in almost a decade, a rare instance where the superstar from each team could leave – win or lose, one organization there for the first time, the other either at the end of a historic run or halfway through a decade of excellence. Let’s not mistake that this is what the league wants, NBA twitter/reddit, constant dialogue about tomorrow instead of last night, and a space where everyone can chime in from any angle. On my way home and two hours before tip-off of game five, read the following headlines; ‘KD is back!’, ‘Tony Parker Retires’, ‘Game 5 Tickets, highest selling in NBA history’, ‘New Orleans open to AD trade talks’ and ‘RJ Barrett only willing to work out with Knicks’ – all in a 30 minute commute home. As soon as these Finals end, we’re all quickly moving to the draft, free agency, and who’s dating who over the summer. I mean, there’s still a chance the legacy of these finals could be a Canadian rapper. The NBA has found its sweet spot where the games are almost superseded by everything in between, almost. Game five brought out every possible emotion one can have over three hours, no matter who you were cheering for. It also reminded of why we love the game so much, to see champions pushed against the edge, a country band together every other night, see the players truly give a shit over a loose ball, and every adjustment, substitution, review in between.
Let’s pause … for a moment. Take in what these Finals have to offer and what it means to its leading men - for now.
Despite playing the least, KD has had more twists and turns then anyone in these playoffs. Check the tweets after his 38-point half against the Clippers, after GSW won game six in Houston, after a convincing game one loss of these Finals, then everything pre, during, and post-game five. It’s wild how much the spectrum swings back and forth from best player in the world, to not needed at all, to a summer of ‘what now?’. He’ll never admit it, but heading into game five, this was a ‘win’ for Kevin, proving just how valuable he is and how we can’t take his special talent for granted. I thought the worst case for Durant was GSW winning handedly without him and adding another layer of perceived discredit to his two championships from most, I was wrong. His best case now is simple - health and recovery for an injury that even today’s technology and advances have proven to be difficult to come back from at 100%. A third straight Finals MVP would have put him in rarified air, next to Jordan (twice) and Shaq. Depending how things land, its unfortunate we may never get a peak Kawhi versus KD in the Finals – or peak KD at all.
Kawhi is on the flip side, ascending to heights that few have ever scratched, and the presidents are being set, night after night. The comparisons have been rattled off every broadcast to Jordan, which typically would make a lot of us cringe, but for him, and for this playoff run, its coming to fruition.
· Sixth player (Jordan, James,Olajuwon, Iverson, O’Neal) to score 700+ points in a single postseason
· Only four players (Jordan,James, Olajuwon, Iverson) have averaged more than him in the Finals (31.09)
· Tied Lebron and Kobe for most 30-point games in a postseason (14), just shy of Jordan (16)
· Second to Kobe (9), with eight 30-point road performances
LOOK AT THOSE NAMES!
Add the clutch factor, his moment in Game 7 against the Sixers, and media interviews – he’s on a legendary path.
Most importantly to me and what I deem the last level of greatness, is the awareness of the game and control. You alway shear about a player as they mature speak to the game slowing down, it feels as if Kawhi has an innate ability to make it stop. I’m willing to bet that he leads on a stat that I’ve yet seen created or found – most ‘pick your amount of points’ runs by a single player. The way he came out of halftime in game five, started the fourth quarter of game six, he always carves out an ‘I got this’ spurt. This is where I correlate him to Mike the most, there’s an assurance that so few have ever attained, no matter the game flow, they will pull it together to give their team a chance… or engage that killer mentality to put things away. This is also what’s most foreign to your Raptors ride or die’s, the confidence that their never out of it compared to the anticipation of messing things up. I don’t know if they win, I don’t know if he stays, but pick any angle you want, Masai’s trade last summer was worth every second and every penny.
It blows my mind to think that a two-time MVP and three-time champion has the most to gain. It drives me sick that people hold onto the no NBA Finals MVP over his head, but the fact is, he doesn’t have his defining Finals moment yet – the ABC intro montage, type of moment. He doesn’t have his Kyrie shot, LeBron block, or KD’s two dagger pull ups the last two years. He knows it. He referenced it recently when he had his chance to ‘easily’ go around Kevin Love in game seven instead of taking an off balance three. For as chill as Steph seems, he wants that moment, he wants that MVP and cement himself in the top tier of champions forever. The table is set, he gets to right the wrongs of two Oracle losses and leave his mark.
Is it crazy to think Klay will end up a top ten shooting guard of all time? Top 8? Top 5?
I would already take him over Reggie Miller and Clyde Drexler. Halfway through his career, he’s already stacking up against the likes of Ray Allen, while the verdict is still out between him and Harden once all is said and done; Mike and Kobe are out of reach. Best case for Klay is you mention him in the same breath as Dwayne Wade, but mostly in part to his situation, I’m not quite sure he’ll ever eclipse the impact of the ’06 Finals by Dwayne. Defense is where he starts to separate himself, taking the opposing team’s best perimeter player every night. Dwayne has three all-defensive team appearances, Klay has one so far, while Mike and Kobe have an astonishing twenty-one between them. Then you start to add the one-offs, the 37-point quarter, the60-points on eleven dribbles, and most threes (11) in a playoff game in 2016; defeating the OKC Thunder in game 6 en route to completing a 3-1 comeback series win – all are the type of outlier games that seem impossible to ever achieve again. By all accounts he’s about as easy going, enjoyable and reliable of teammates, and most recently validated exactly what he’s worth. His absence in Game three was evident and his resolve to come back to perform in game four and five are commendable. As much as Steph has the chance to flourish, this equally could be Klay’s ’06 Finals stamp of greatness.
Game Six will be amazing! It’s the last game in Oakland with its home team now in the unique spot of going from distained champion, who’s now so pushed against the wall, that they’re loveable underdogs. On the other side, a unique player that has no other intention then to cap off a whole intro montage by himself. The later it goes in a series, the tighter guys play, and the games get uglier. These games come down to four or five plays and as much as we can speak to our leading men, sometimes those plays come through as a late clock Van Fleet or Igoudala 3-Pointer, or a Gasol offensive board … or a Demarcus Cousins moving screen. Either way, Thursday night we’ll be locked into the game itself. And if my personal wishes come true, GSW take game 6 to gift all us Father’s one helleva treat come Sunday night.