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For years we criticized LeBron James. This so-called prodigy was the on the brink of becoming the best player in the game, but he couldn’t lead his Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA championship.
In 2005-06, James averaged 30.8 points per game in the postseason, but the Cavs fell to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference semis. A year later, he averaged 25.1 points per game as the Cavs were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals.
James’ playoff follies continued in his final three seasons in Cleveland, getting eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the semis in 2008, the Orlando Magic in the conference finals in 2009, and famously taking off his jersey after Boston again defeated the Cavaliers in the conference finals in 2010.
It wasn’t until 2012 when James finally broke through, capturing his first NBA title with the Miami Heat with the help of superstar Dwyane Wade. All the critics were finally silenced. James was a champion at last. And for all the naysayers that said James could never be “clutch enough” to win a title finally had nothing to talk about on their radio shows.
Everybody heard the James doubters loud and clear. But when are they going to raise the volume on Kevin Durant?
The reigning NBA MVP and his Oklahoma City Thunder were just ousted by the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, the fourth straight year Durant’s postseason has come to a close without hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Durant couldn’t get past the Los Angeles Lakers in his first playoff series in 2009-10. His Thunder won only one game in the conference finals to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks the following year. Last year, the Spurs quickly dispensed of the Thunder in the semis.
Durant’s playoffs have resembled James’ in the fact that he just can’t seem to get over the hump. But unlike James, nobody is taking their shots at Durant.
Durant has a better team than James did when he was in Cleveland. Nobody questions why Durant doesn’t take the last shot. And nobody criticized Durant when he disappears for stretches at a time in big-time playoff contests.
Is it fair to blame Durant for the Thunder’s loss? No, but LeBron was named the scapegoat when it was him in that position.
For whatever it’s worth, Durant is viewed in this positive light. Coach Scott Brooks and Russell Westbrook get stuck with a lot of the criticism, while Durant seems to get away with going 0-for-3 in overtime of a Game 6 at home in the conference finals.
This is the fourth consecutive year in which Durant has failed to bring Oklahoma City a trophy. If the same occurs next postseason, he’ll have gone five years without a title, the same length of time James did before he bounced Cleveland and headed to South Beach.
This isn’t a matter of whether Durant is going to jet out of town like James did to move into a better situation; it’s the fact that after James’ Cavs fell to Boston in 2010, the then-two-time reigning MVP looked defeated, as if he’d had enough of the criticism from NBA analysts, beat writers and radio show personalities that he could never seem to live up to their near-impossible expectations.
Next year, I could envision Durant starting to hear it more, especially if LeBron and the Heat win a third straight NBA title. Then James would have three title, and Durant none. And for the top two players in the league and possibly of this era in basketball, the temperature in the room could suddenly be getting a lot warmer.
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