Kevin Durant's Journey Continues as NBA Finals Return Becomes Reality

Dave Schilling@@dave_schillingWriter-at-LargeMay 23, 2017

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 22:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in the second half against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Four of the 2017 NBA Western Conference Finals at AT&T Center on May 22, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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SAN ANTONIO — When Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston was asked what mood their newest superweapon, Kevin Durant, was in back in the locker room after their Game 4 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, just like his team in each of its series so far, he kept it brief. “Joyous, man.”

The job is far from done, but the getting there has been more of a struggle than it seems from afar for Durant and this Golden State team. From the moment KD announced he’d be leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to come to the Bay, the questions began to pop up. Would this collection of All-Stars be able to jell? Was it right for Durant to abandon ship to join as close to a sure thing as there is in professional sports? Was he now a villain?

Durant has carried that polarizing reputation through these playoffs, barking at the Utah Jazz mascot and telling fans who are bored with Golden State’s dominance, “If you don't like it, don't watch it.” The young man who wept at the podium the day he received the MVP trophy is still there, but with a tougher exterior. 

The deeper the Warriors go, the more ossified the scowl on his face becomes. “To be headed to the NBA Finals is a great way to combat all that talk,” Draymond Green told reporters after Golden State's 129-115 series-deciding win Monday. “To win it would be even better.”

Eric Gay/Associated Press

That’s why joy doesn’t necessarily seem like a word you’d ascribe to Durant these days. If I might be allowed a minor indulgence, he seems positively Kobe-esque in his approach to the game. But this is a moment to exhale. It wasn’t all for nothing—the boos in Oklahoma City, the incessant debate over the virtues of the superteam and whatever it is that’s being said about him on social media this very second. This means something. The journey continues.

Livingston took a moment to ponder the significance of it all, then continued. “Everything he has to go through, his decision-making process throughout the season. All the scrutiny. For him to celebrate with us, it’s a brotherhood.”

Watching these Warriors play, watching them practice, you know brotherhood isn’t a marketing term or a buzzword hastily spat out for the sake of filling time during a press availability. Whatever it was that Durant missed in Oklahoma City—common bonds, elaborate handshakes, easy access to large bodies of water, who knows what else—he seems to have it now.

“We just kept grinding,” Durant said, reflecting on how far they’ve come.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 20: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors shoots the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals of the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 20, 2017 AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USE
Noah Graham/Getty Images

As seems customary in this postseason, Durant took the press conference podium with Steph Curry by his side. If these Warriors are to reclaim their title from the Cavaliers, these two are going to have to keep trading buckets with each other the way they did tonight. Curry finished as the high man with 36, but Durant, with 29, was not far behind with his first back-to-back games with over 25 points since the injury that kept him out of much of the first round.

If one thing bonds Durant and Curry besides their otherworldly talent, it’s that they both bear the pain of a Finals loss to LeBron James—Durant back in 2012 with the Thunder and last year for Curry. They have a bill to collect on, even if they won’t say that’s what made this dream union of former MVPs a reality. "We didn’t talk about championships or anything,” Durant said while Curry silently nodded in agreement. “We just wanted to build good habits and have fun playing some basketball.”

Good habits are often easily broken, as this team has shown with its repeated difficulty keeping track of the basketball. The proverbial dead horse of excessive turnovers must be beaten yet again, if only because the Warriors have not found a way to solve the problem. They racked up another 17 turnovers in Game 4, which has to trouble interim coach Mike Brown and the ailing Steve Kerr, who traveled to San Antonio and got to celebrate with the team.

Cleveland, with significantly more weapons than the hobbled Spurs, will happily feast on the transition points if given the opportunity.

The Warriors’ final test awaits. This isn’t the moment Durant was thinking about when he chose to leave OKC, but it’s pretty damn close. “He didn’t make the decision he made to go to the Finals,” Green said. "He made the decision he made, number one, for just his own life, where he was at in his life and what he wanted to do, but also to win a championship. To go win.

"You know, no one remembers second place.”