The shot of Kevin Durant’s life was a lifetime in the making – The Denver Post

CLEVELAND — Wanda Durant watched her son slow down, just to the left of the top of the three-point line, 28 feet from the rim, basketball in his hand, rising from the court. She had witnessed the same thing so many times, long before Kevin Durant had reached the apex of the sport. She had watched him pull up for jumpers – this jumper – when he was a skinny kid in Prince George’s County, Md., hoisting shots at Seat Pleasant Activity Center. She watched him take the shot at the University of Texas and in Oklahoma City. A lifetime of shots had preceded this shot.

“Oh my God, I’ve seen that since he was 7 years old,” Wanda Durant said. “Ever since he started playing basketball I’ve seen that shot. But I don’t think any of them meant more than this one here tonight.”

Wanda Durant would know how much the shot meant to her son. Durant had pulled up in front of LeBron James, the man who has so often stood in his way, and drained a three-pointer. The shot turned a two-point deficit into a one-point lead, the lodestone in a stunning, 11-0 run in the final, furious 138 seconds of Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Durant scored seven of those points, and the Golden State Warriors won, 118-113, at a hushed Quicken Loans Arena.

Durant’s shot put the Warriors within one victory of a title and a 16-0 playoff record. It meant the likely end of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ title run. It meant a near-certain first championship for Durant. It meant even more than that.

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Midway through the playoffs, Durant started an expanded shooting workout to remain sharp through endless days off. In the morning, at the Warriors’ practice facility in downtown Oakland, he would shoot hundreds of three-pointers. “He’s really been grooving it,” Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser said. “Best I’ve seen all season.”

During the workouts, Durant chose specific spots and shot until he drilled 10 in a row, enough volume to find a rhythm. Some days, one of those spots would be about 28 feet from the rim, to the left of the top of the arc.

“I just tried to stay disciplined in my shot,” Durant said. “Hold my follow-through.”

Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors

Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors reacts late in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 7, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Warriors had grown unfamiliar with distress, but they faced it Wednesday night. James’ total brilliance and Kyrie Irving’s scoring wizardry had been too much. The Cavaliers led, 113-107, with 3:09 remaining.

And yet, the Warriors felt calm, “kind of peaceful,” Steph Curry said later. Curry started the spurt with a layup. Durant slashed the deficit to two with a driving bank shot over Tristan Thompson. The Cavaliers called timeout with 1:15 left.

With the Warriors huddled around him, Kerr outlined his plan. After the Cavaliers’ possession, make or miss, they would not call timeout, so the Cavaliers could not make defensive adjustments. Durant would bring the ball up the floor, and he would determine if he needed a screen or not to create space, to set the Warriors’ offense in motion. The ball would belong to Durant.

First, they needed another stop. Cavaliers sharpshooter Kyle Korver rimmed out a corner three-pointer, and Durant corralled the rebound. The Warriors trailed by two. The clock showed 51 seconds, and Durant calculated the quick math – a shot within the next six or seven seconds would allow the Warriors a final possession, even if they missed.

In the span of four easy dribbles, Durant glided to within 35 feet of the hoop. He saw James, dog-tired, hanging about five feet inside the three-point line. Durant knew he would not wait for the screen.

Durant slowed in perfect rhythm – left, right, left-right, leftright – the foot on his shooting side staggered just in front of his left. He rose, 28 feet from the rim, to the left of the top of the arc. James knows Durant leans forward on his jump shot. He lunged at him, careful not to foul, a step late, his hand at Durant’s forearm. Durant flicked his wrist. The ball floated through the air.

Go for the jugular. Rarely has the phrase been used to describe Durant. Nastiness does not come naturally to him. For a superstar, he craves being part of a team, and being a good teammate. In the past, perhaps, he may not have surveyed James dropping back, with his team down two on the road, and fired.

“What it says more than anything is that he’s got guts internally, but it also means he’s comfortable with our team,” Fraser said. “Earlier in the year, he may have deferred, tried to get someone else that shot. Our team relies on him now.”

Durant’s unique challenge when he chose to play for the Warriors was how to wield his greatness without betraying his personality. The Warriors relied on selflessness, which is what attracted him to Golden State. But for Golden State to reach their greatest potential, they would need him to unleash his staggering individual scoring ability.

In a new place, that would not come naturally. Durant has flashed a prickly side in public in recent years, but those moments serve as a shield, hiding his amiable personality, his desire to blend in. Fitting all those parts together has been the central mission of Golden State’s season.

“It’s been a process,” Fraser said. “In a good way, he deferred because he’s a team player and he wanted to fit in. It’s his personality. But if you had a guy come in and just wanted to take over because he was great, he wouldn’t have worked with our team. He wants to fit in. He wants to be liked. But he’s so good, so how does that work? It’s a process. He had to let the process work out.”

The Warriors began to solve how to best play with Durant, how both he and Curry could assert themselves, after a Christmas loss in Cleveland. By late February, they had become a machine. “Super cohesive,” Fraser said. And then Durant sprained his medial collateral ligament against the Wizards at Verizon Center. He feared his season would be over, but missed eight weeks. Durant watched how the Warriors operated without him, and when he returned, he fully understood how to integrate himself without acceding.

“You can tell, he knows this is his moment,” Kerr said. “He’s been an amazing player in this league for a long time, and I think he senses this is his time, his moment, his team. I think he’s having the time of his life out there.”