The Miami Heat had topped the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. The precocious Thunder featured two (soon to be three) future MVPs, and Durant logged 32 points and 11 rebounds in the final game. Still, Oklahoma City never stood much of a chance against Miami.
"It hurts, man," Durant said from the podium. "We're all brothers on this team, and it just hurts to go out like this. We made it to the Finals, which was cool for us, but we didn't want to just make it there. Unfortunately, we lost, so it's tough. It's tough, man. That's the only way I can explain it. ... I wouldn't want to play with anybody else. I wouldn't want to play for any other city. I'm just blessed to be a part of this organization, and hopefully we can get back."
Durant, of course, found his way back, but without the Thunder. And while the second title won in as many seasons Friday night validated Durant's new team, the Golden State Warriors, as worthy of dynasty consideration, it also have vindicated Durant's choice to join them two summers ago.
The Warriors were historically great before signing Durant, and his acquisition turned them unbeatable. Durant broke the NBA, the critics said, or at least took the suspense out of it.
After Game 3, CJ McCollum and Jared Dudley recognized the greatness in Durant's game while bemoaning the embarrassment of basketball riches the Warriors have:
For all the talent Golden State possesses, it was Durant who again tipped this series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, connecting on a 33-foot dagger three-pointer late in Game 3 to essentially clinch a 3-0 series lead—part of his 43 points on a night Stephen Curry missed nine of his 10 threes.
Kevin Love had the clearest angle of any Cavalier for Durant's series-turning shot Wednesday. Love turned from guarding Klay Thompson, took a couple of fruitless steps toward the basket and traced the arcing ball.
"Sometimes even when you know it's coming and he's playing downhill and he's out there dancing with the ball, that pull-up is tough to stop because he can shoot right over you at that size," Love told reporters.
The net barely had time to settle back in place when a debate that had never really ended picked up again.
Look at the resume. Durant is annually building his case as one of the best to ever play the game. He is just one of 11 players in NBA history to claim multiple Finals MVPs. On Friday, he capped Finals averages of 28.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game with his first playoff triple-double.
How many championships will it take for his name to seriously be debated among the pantheon of greats?
Three? Four? Five?
Durant may never be able to satisfy those who say he broke the system. But in leaving the Thunder for a team that had won 73 games the season before he arrived, he showed what he holds important. Durant made a smart basketball decision in joining Golden State—the smartest he could make if the end goal is championships.
This is the outcome Durant envisioned when making his choice. James carried a heavy burden throughout the regular season and postseason, perhaps the largest ever, in pushing his Cavaliers to the Finals. The occasional lapses Durant showed against the Houston Rockets dissipated as the Finals pushed on. He played fresh and chose his moments to pick apart the Cavaliers.
"Former players and players now that got a lot to say about what I did, they know how I play," Durant said Friday evening after the game. "They know exactly what I bring. They know. They know. They understand when they get on the court with me or they check up with me. They know what it is.
"So, I kind of try to just stand on that, but I know what I bring to the game. I know how I approach the game, how hard I work, how much I care. I think that's the stuff I try to focus on more than anything is just being a professional basketball player and doing stuff for me and the team. So, I pride myself on that, and everything else is just noise."
This was the fourth rendition of Cavaliers-Warriors in the Finals, the second that involved Durant and easily the one with the least suspense. "Well, you just get a great set of players on the court," Durant said before the series opened. "I mean, it may not be as suspenseful as a lot of people want it to be or as drama-filled, but that's what you've got movies and music for."
Plenty of people are ready to turn the page. Durant is not.
He could leave Golden State this summer, a year into the discounted two-year, $51.3 million contract he signed last year to grant the organization the flexibility to retain Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. He nixed the notion, telling ESPN's Rachel Nichols, "I'm planning on staying with the Warriors, and we'll figure the rest out."
The Warriors will presumably remain a juggernaut for the foreseeable future.
Durant's decision is made.
And that means James will have another one this summer, when he can become a free agent again.
"So now everyone is trying to figure that out," James said the day before Game 4. "How do you put together a group of talent but also a group of minds to be able to compete with Golden State, to be able to compete for a championship? That's what GMs and presidents and certain players—it's not every player; every player does not want to...sad to say, but every player doesn't want to compete for a championship and be in a position where every possession is pressure."
When James joined Miami in 2010 and built a conglomerate with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he helped shape Durant's future decision in finding the best team to win championships. Now, it appears Durant's choice two summers ago will influence James in locating his best opportunity.
Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen as his running mate. But the days of one or even two All-Stars being enough to claim a championship are past. Durant recognized that fact.
Championships are always the ultimate measuring stick.
Durant is at two and counting.
Jonathan Abrams is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at Grantland and sports reporter at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Abrams is also the best-selling author of All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire—available right here, right now. Follow him on Twitter: @jpdabrams