BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo Credit: Eric Espada/Getty Images)
They haven’t done either of that in their ill-fated three-year run with the Nets. It has been nothing but frustration and controversy. Irving always created a problem whether it was his vaccination status, taking a sabbatical or getting Kenny Atkinson fired. Meanwhile, Durant has been surly, and he hasn’t exactly elevated the Nets, either.
This much-maligned duo is coming off a four-game first-round sweep against the Boston Celtics. Their old teams are participating in the NBA Finals on Thursday night to make matters worse for them. The Golden State Warriors will face the Boston Celtics on Thursday night after the Celtics pulled off a 100-96 Game 7 victory over the Miami Heat Sunday night at FTX Arena.
Yes, the Warriors and Celtics found out life is better without Durant and Irving.
For those two teams to do well without them, it’s an indictment on the Nets duo. It tells you right there those two were overrated. The Nets have every reason to wonder if there is buyer’s remorse on both of them. They certainly can’t lead as Nets from what we saw so far.
No one could be surprised the Warriors did well without Durant. After all, they still boast two superstars in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. They have an excellent maestro in head coach Steve Kerr. They were a great team before Durant signed with them, and they are a great team without him.
The Dubs will go to the Finals for the sixth time in eight seasons. It’s been a great run for them obviously. This season is special in the sense these guys still have it. Draymond Green, Curry and Thompson continue to play at a high level. But now they are complemented by Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, Gary Payton II. and Jordan Poole.
For the newcomers to be valuable contributors to the Warriors, it speaks well of the offense Kerr runs and how Curry and Thompson make them even better.
This is a team that is just unselfish. An attribute that made them likable before Durant played for them. This is a team that no longer needs to rely on iso ball, which was needed for Durant to do well. They play such beautiful basketball that can capture a basketball fan’s soul.
Just watching the Warriors do well reinforces my point that Durant needed the Warriors much more than they needed him. There was a reason he signed with them. He knew he can win a championship the easy way by signing with them. He did by getting two championships.
His critics taunted him by saying his two championships were tainted in the sense he needed Curry and Thompson to help him achieve his personal goal. It’s clear it bothered him so much that he would be defensive on Twitter often. It’s also why he had to go to the Nets to show he can win on his own.
So far, Durant is 0-for-2 as a Net. In his first season, he couldn’t play because of an Achilles injury he suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals. In his second season, his foot was too big on the three-point line preventing his shot to be a three-pointer that could have beaten the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. In his third season, he is coming off a Celtics sweep, which he was terrible the entire series.
It appeared the Celtics would be back to being dregs of the league after Irving bailed out on them. The Nets took them out in five games last season. This franchise was in disarray to the point Brad Stevens got booted as head coach and became the general manager instead and Danny Ainge resigned as their general manager. They were 18-21 at one point this season.
But a funny thing happened. The Celtics somehow played their way to the NBA Finals. They took off after sweeping the Nets. They dispatched the Bucks in seven games, and they grinded their way from beating the Heat in the Eastern Conference final in seven games. They did this by being a defense-first team under first-year Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who is turning out to be a rising NBA star as a head coach. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown elevated their game without Irving dragging them down.
In so many ways, the Celtics turned out to be the best story of the NBA playoffs. This is a team risen from the dead to be where they are today. They are so unselfish by sacrificing their offensive game for the common good. They are everything that’s right about the game. They deserved to play in the NBA Finals. If they win the championship, it would cap off a great run for a proud franchise.
They clearly moved on without Irving. They don’t have to answer questions about his well-being. They don’t have to worry about whether he wants to play or not. They don’t have to deal with his mood swings. They don’t have to deal with his stupidity such as not getting vaccinated. They knew they would be fine without him. They just needed time, and it got here this season at the right time.
Here’s the best thing about the Warriors and Celtics without Durant and Irving: They are likable again.
Don’t expect Durant and Irving to say anything about their teams going to the Finals without them. I am not even sure if the Nets point guard is even aware of what’s going on in the NBA or even in society right now as he is in his own world of whatever it is. As for Durant, he can deny all he wants about not caring, but he’s a proud individual, and this has to bother him more than he lets on.
For them to fail so far as the Nets have to be frustrating. For their old teams to do well without them, it has to be doubly disappointing for the Nets stars.
This is something we can all celebrate.
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