Kevin Durant had been waiting his whole life to sink the 3-pointer that lifted Golden State over Cleveland and put him on the brink of an NBA championship.
The 28-year-old forward hit the go-ahead shot with 45 seconds remaining to put the Warriors ahead to stay in game three of the NBA Finals, giving Golden State a 3-0 edge in the best-of-seven series that could end Friday in Cleveland.
Durant left Oklahoma City last July to join Golden State hoping to become a champion. The Warriors are 15-0 in the playoffs and would complete the first unbeaten post-season run in NBA history by winning game four.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” Durant said Thursday. “I’m just trying to go out there and play hard every second I’m on the floor, play with passion and energy and joy. That’s all I’m concerned about.
“I didn’t envision anything but just being around good people and getting better every single day. That’s exactly what happened throughout the season.”
It’s a maturing process that Warriors coach Steve Kerr can see in Durant seeking the ball in clutch moments and blending his skills with his teammates rather than trying to force his style upon them.
“It just looks like he understands this is his moment, this is his time,” Kerr said. “He’s earned it. He has been in this league for a long time and he’s, I think, at the top of his game at the biggest time.”
Durant’s key basket over Cleveland’s LeBron James could be the first signature moment in a possible dynasty run for the Warriors, seeking their second title in three seasons after falling one win shy of a crown last year.
“I don’t think about years from now. Try not to think too far past today,” Durant said. “I don’t want to get too far off of the goal at hand and the task at hand. I’m just trying to stay in this moment and not worry about the future.”
Warriors guard Stephen Curry was impressed to see Durant seize the moment and swing momentum in the game and series heavily in Golden State’s favor.
“Can’t be afraid of failure,” Curry said. “Most guys who don’t want to take those shots don’t want to deal with the repercussions of if you miss, because that is a terrible feeling. But you can’t be afraid of that feeling, knowing that you prepared yourself with all the reps you put in in the gym shooting.
“His mindset is I’m ready to take this shot because I haven’t cheated the game. The guys that probably work the hardest, that have that killer instinct and that mindset, we don’t care if we make or miss. You want to take that shot because you believe in yourself and you’ll live with the results.
“So hopefully it works out more times than not, but that’s probably the key — just not being afraid of failure.”
Durant knows what it’s like to lose an NBA Finals, falling in 2012 to Miami as James won his first career title.
“I never been in this position before,” Durant said. “I don’t want to relax. It’s not over. This is a crazy game. Anything can happen.
“I just try to stay positive and know in the fourth that coach is going to call my number and my teammates are going to look for me and it’s up to me to finish.”
Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving marveled at the way Durant finished.
“We witnessed a closing game by Kevin Durant that you can’t prepare for,” he said. “It’s just big-time play, big-time play after big-time play he was making. He was comfortable and we tried to make it as uncomfortable as possible.
“If that three goes the other way, then the whole conversation could be different. But he nails a big-time shot like that. He was gutsy enough to take it and it created what they needed.”
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