NBA Finals 2022: Kevin Durant casts shadow over Warriors-Celtics
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
The NBA Finals are underway and Kevin Durant is in the news. Like, right in the middle of the news. Pick an article, any article, that relates to the ongoing matchup between the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics, and there is a better than even chance Durant’s name will pop up somewhere in it.
Three years after his stint with Golden State ended in a split, the superstar forward and his former team can’t quite seem to fully uncouple from each other, providing exactly the sort of subplot spice that the league’s fan base thrives on.
Some NBA players spend their summers heading for a tropical beach and shutting themselves off from basketball. Not Durant. He’s here for the Finals, every step.
Twitter jousts involving Draymond Green. Railing at media pundits whose take he happens to disagree with. Mind-boggling stats that give a taste of just how much impact he had during his time in the Bay Area. Speculation as to what might have happened had he not left.
Another day, another KD story at the front and center of the headline stack. And, as a side note, the Celtics took a 1-0 Finals lead on Thursday with a fourth-quarter comeback for the ages.
OK, it’s not quite gotten to the point of overshadowing the action, but Durant is inextricably linked with the Finals narrative, and the public is in no mood to shift that reality. His latest contribution was ostensibly his tamest — a Game 1 tweet referring to the quality of basketball on display — but things have reached a stage where even that offering led many to wonder if the message contained a deeply-layered and nuanced jab at his old colleagues.
The peculiar thing is that there were times when he didn’t get this much attention while actually playing in the Finals. In 2017 and 2018, Golden State was the most powerful juggernaut in professional sports. A team full of big characters, it had Steph Curry as its undisputed leader and Bay Area media darling, Green never shy to offer a tasty quote, Klay Thompson as a fan-favorite shooting wizard and Durant, off the court at least, sometimes feeling like the odd man out.
They won a pair of titles — and Durant collected back-to-back Finals MVPs — but he was never going to be the face of the franchise.
He's been gone for as long as he was there to begin with, but still, he frames much of the discussion.
"Kevin Durant is not walking back through the door," FS1’s Nick Wright said on "First Things First" after the Warriors’ Thursday night collapse. "Here is a stat that I couldn’t believe. The Golden State Warriors are 1-8 in their last nine Finals games without Kevin Durant."
Durant’s move to Golden State and his departure from there were two of the modern era’s biggest NBA power shifts. When he was with the Warriors, no opponent found an effective way to cope with such a potent arsenal of offensive weaponry.
Had he not gotten injured during the 2019 postseason, another championship may have resulted. When he left shortly afterward, it appeared to signal the end of the Warriors dynasty and the potential start of a new one in Brooklyn.
One of the great ironies of the current series is that doomsday for both Finals franchises apparently came simultaneously. Kyrie Irving left the Celtics for the Nets on the very same day Durant joined Brooklyn. Yet both teams have rebounded and recovered, while Brooklyn has just a single playoff series win to its name since then.
Yet many still wonder what might have happened had Durant stayed with Golden State. Green insisted this week that it was a mistake for him to leave.
"Basketball is 100 percent the most important thing in Kevin’s life," Green said on "The Colin Cowherd Podcast." "It is the thing that he cares about himself more than anything in the world. The reason I thought Kevin was making a mistake, I felt like when Kevin was here, what he was allowed to do was to simply just go play basketball, which is what Kevin loves to do."
Durant certainly doesn’t run from the chatter. He sees and hears everything. Nothing slips by. He chose to take umbrage with a separate comment Green made to Cowherd, claiming Curry was double-teamed far more often than Durant during their partnership.
A back-and-forth ensued, before Durant moved on to criticizing various media pundits, including the FOX Sports duo of Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe. If, as Green says, Durant just wants to focus on basketball, he’s got a funny way of showing it. Or maybe he loves the game so much that this is his way of staying in the middle of it, even with his own season done.
Regardless, he has had to look on frustratedly the past several weeks. For much of the season, Brooklyn was the bookies' favorite to win the title, based on the assumption that their star power would begin shining when it mattered. Instead, they were swept out of the first round in what would prove to be the start of the Celtics’ title run.
Whichever way the Finals goes from here, it is clear that Durant is still going to be a part of it. Tweeting, griping, commenting, and remaining one of the NBA debating circle’s favored topics.
No one divides opinion quite like him, and no one really knows what to make of this odd saga — where he is the star of a show that he has nothing and everything to do with, all at the same time.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.