IN the lead up to the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers meeting in the NBA Finals for the third straight season I’ve decided to do a daily feature piece leading up to the epic seven game series. Legacies will be defined, reputations are on the line and the winner will claim bragging rights as the better team in this bitter, historic rivalry.

Day 1 – Steph Curry’s ‘Off Year’

Day 2 – Kevin Love’s Rebounding: Cleveland’s Secret Weapon

Day 3 – How The Benchwarmers Stack Up

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KD is used to being second. In 2013 he voiced his frustration at being runner-up. In April of 2013 he featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and proceeded to talk about his extensive history of finishing second. He told SI’s Lee Jenkins “I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I’ve been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I’m tired of being second. I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.” A lot has changed in those four years since that article, but once again Durant is still trying to oust LeBron to be #1.

THE Warriors motto throughout the 2015 and 2016 Finals was ‘Strength In Numbers’. On July 4th, 2016 they decided some of those numbers needed to make way for Durant, as he created fireworks of his own by declaring his intentions to join Golden State. What ensued was Durant’s very public departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder, a move that was criticised by everyone with a voice/keyboard/Twitter account. It was deemed worse than when LeBron left the Cavs in 2010, because Durant was joining the team that beat him in the playoffs just five weeks earlier, turning his back on the loyal, fanatical franchise he had called home for nine years. He was eaten alive by NBA analysts, media personnel, his NBA peers and fans across the world. This kind of negative energy and hatred towards Durant and the Warriors has the majority of the general NBA fans rooting for a Dub Nation L in this years Finals. This sounds familiar right? In 2011 when the Miami Heat met the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, fans, myself included, wanted to see the super team from Florida come up short. And when they did? It was almost as good as winning a championship itself. A similar sentiment is directed towards KD and the Warriors with their union almost seemed like cheating or that they are taking shortcuts with everyone wanting to see him/them come up short.

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden State WarriorsImage from theundefeated.com

IF history is anything to go by then that’s exactly what will happen (sorry Dubs fans). Durant’s track record against LeBron isn’t great, with the 8x All Star currently the owner of a 5-18 record against King James in his career. Of course part of that dominance is due to LeBron usually playing on superior teams earlier in Druant’s career, but having a 21% win rate against the best player in the world, doesn’t exact instill a ton of confidence into those pro-Durant fans. Durant has been able to pip LeBron in one major race, when he was awarded the 2014 MVP and LeBron finished second. A few short seasons earlier in the 2012 Finals though, LeBron claimed the ultimate victory over Durant, winning his first NBA championship overcoming the Thunder in six games. Individual awards are nice, yet I can guarantee Durant would exchange that trophy, and hell of all his trophies, for a gleaming championship ring. It comes as no surprise to any basketball fan that LeBron rises to any challenge that is in front of him and lifts his game to levels we didn’t know was previously possible. As he prepares to face this loaded Warriors team, we know he is going to perform. The question is can Kevin Durant do the same thing? Or will he be a bridesmaid once again as James gets the ring.

GOLDEN State enters the series against Cleveland as huge favourites, having dismantled their first three playoff opponents in a way we have never seen before. And all the while they have alarmingly shown signs of improvement. There is always a ‘feeling out’ process or period of time when superstars have to get used to playing alongside each other, and those struggles coupled with Durant’s injury had them underdone or underprepared to a certain extent entering the postseason. The bad news now for anti-Warriors fans is that as Golden State enters their final few games of the season clicking on all cylinders. Making matters worse Durant is performing at career best efficiency levels (55 FG%, 41.7 3P%, 87.1 FT%) putting up over 25 a game in the fewest average minutes of his playoff career. They seemed to have drowned out the noise being made by the media, fans and haters in general, with a portion of those such people now believing a Dubs chip is inevitable. With the reduction in noise comes a ‘peace of mind’ Durant has been craving for a long time, as a mere 10 months ago he was dreading the scrutiny and judgement that awaited him once he announced his decision to the world. For Durant now the season really begins with his 2017 success levels judged clearly by whether they win a ring or not. Personally, I think Durant is still the best player on this team and therefore the second best player in the series, but for the first time he has the potential to finish first in the race that matters most to him. The race for the 2017 NBA championship.

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