NBA

NBA Finals To Decide Game’s Best Player Between Durant, Leonard

Jun 9, 2019, 4:28 PM | Updated: 4:39 pm
Getty Images...
Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The throne is now up for grabs.

Not the Iron Throne from HBO’s Game of Thrones, which by the way, had a less-than-satisfying ending, but rather the theoretical throne that belongs to the NBA’s best player.

That title once firmly belonged to LeBron James, who is still a super elite player 16 years into playing in the league, but in the minds of most basketball fans has fallen from grace a bit after a disappointing year by his Los Angeles Lakers.

Golden State’s Steph Curry at one point had a valid claim to the throne, especially during the 2015-16 season when he was nothing short of sensational as he changed the dynamic of putting the ball in the hoop with his unbelievable skill from way beyond the arc.

Curry changed the game then, but the throne still belonged to James as he led his teams in Miami and Cleveland to eight-straight NBA Finals, winning the title in the same season as Curry’s miraculous 2015-16.

Now, however, the opinion of basketball fans as the game’s top player is ripe for the taking and it’s really a two-horse race at this point.

Kawhi Could Be King

While Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Houston’s James Harden will likely finish one and two in the MVP voting, fans really care most about rings and championships. The champion of this season’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors will also boast the game’s signature player.

It’ll be either Golden State’s Kevin Durant or Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and the numbers favor Leonard as the winner.

Heading into Thursday’s Game 6, Toronto leads the Finals series three games to one. According to the statistics experts, the Raptors have a 90-plus percent chance of claiming their first title in franchise history.

This season’s NBA playoffs have provided tons of memorable moments, and not a single one involved James, as the Lakers failed to make the playoffs. Portland’s Damian Lillard was excellent, Antetokounmpo was terrific, and several members of the Warriors, including Durant, also had stellar moments but none have captivated the sports world’s attention like Leonard.

What fascinates people about Leonard is how noticeably odd he seems to act both on and off the court. He’s built like he was constructed in a basketball-robot factory and has the personality to validate that theory.

He’s a 6-foot-7 specimen known for having abnormally large hands that can be used to a big advantage on his defense, ball-handling and other aspects of his game. He’s also a solid shooter and can throw down thunderous dunks. But while his play is stunning, his off-court persona is the complete opposite of dazzling. Look up the word “stoic” in the dictionary and Leonard’s image will appear right next the definition.

His shoe sponsor, New Balance, has cleverly capitalized on his well-known lack of antics, launching a black-and-white ad campaign with the ironic tagline, “Fun Guy,” a term Leonard jokingly used to describe himself at the start of the season.

If Leonard can maintain his laser focus and win a championship for polarizing musical artist Drake and the rest of Toronto’s fanbase, he’ll ascend to the top of public opinion as the best player in the league.

Durant Has A Chance

However, the door is open, albeit quite slightly, for Kevin Durant to become the best-regarded player in basketball.

Durant and the Warriors are faced with a challenge that seems daunting, but it’s not impossible and it’s not unfamiliar to them.

Only one team in NBA history has ever won a Finals series after trailing three games to one. That singular instance occurred in 2016, when James and the Cleveland Cavaliers knocked off the Warriors with a thrilling comeback victory. That was one year before Durant joined Golden State in free agency.

That same year that they lost the Finals after holding a 3-1 lead, the Warriors overcame a similar deficit to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. Who was Oklahoma City’s best player that season? Answer: Kevin Durant.

Eerie, huh?

Durant has been sidelined since May 8 with a calf injury he suffered in Game 5 of the Warriors’ second round series against Houston. Many were worried that it was a devastating Achilles tear, but it turned out to be just a strained calf. Still, the injury has been a bit more severe than anticipated and Durant hasn’t played since.

It was recently reported that Durant has been upgraded to questionable on the injury report thus sparking speculation that he could appear in the Finals, just when his team needs him the most.

There’s also a big chance that he won’t play, but the stage may be set for a career-defining sequence of games for Durant. If he comes back and leads Golden State to a comeback championship, Durant’s legacy will take a significant step forward. Should it all come together and if Golden State win a Game 7 in Toronto thanks to Durant’s heroics, the “Slim Reaper” will vault to forefront of the minds of basketball fans worldwide when they think of the game’s best player.

He’ll then also have a strong case for being considered a top-20 or even top-10 player of all-time.

The jokes about the Warriors blowing a 3-1 series lead in 2016 will disappear.

If Durant is able to play and be effective in the remainder of the series, expect to see a legendary duel between him and Leonard, not only for a championship ring, but for the title of greatest player in the world.

The other interesting angle on this whole equation is that both players are expected to hit free agency this summer. There’s no telling what either player could do in July and there’s a legitimate chance that both could end up on different teams next season.

Buckle up, basketball fans. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Watch the throne.

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NBA Finals To Decide Game’s Best Player Between Durant, Leonard