The stars come out to watch Durant, Warriors take Game 1
‘Power’s’ Omari Hardwick among those impressed with KD and his 38-point performance
Power star actor Omari Hardwick and his homeboy, Grammy-winning singer and Golden State Warriors fan Raphael Saadiq, enjoyed watching Kevin Durant shine bright on the world’s biggest stage during the opening scene of the 2017 NBA Finals on Thursday.
Oracle Arena was studded with celebrities who have dealt with their share of success, adversity and social media hate in Hardwick, Saadiq, Jay Z, Rihanna, Too $hort, E-40 and Kevin Hart. Add Cleveland Cavaliers star forward LeBron James, who recently had the N-word spray-painted on his Los Angeles home, to the list too. Durant also is a member of that elite club: The negativity hit after he departed the Oklahoma City Thunder last offseason for the rival Warriors.
But after a dominant and dunk-heavy game-high 38 points in 37 minutes during a 113-91 victory over Cleveland in Game 1, Durant is now three wins away from his first NBA title and a last laugh for all of his haters.
“If you’re going to join the enemy team, which is what he did, and all that pressure is on you, you show up or shut up,” Hardwick told The Undefeated. “For Game 1 to be a 38-point performance and to play defense the way he played, to me I have to say, ‘Hats off to him.’
“He’s setting a precedent against what the naysayers believe. He is setting a precedent saying, ‘I’m really not going to go out like that.’ I’m going to be the guy on the team that was called ‘my enemy,’ and hopefully we can see what goes from there. He’s the X factor.”
Five years ago, Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka mustered only one win against James and the Miami Heat before succumbing in the 2012 NBA Finals. Months later, the Thunder surprisingly traded Harden, the 2012 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, to the Houston Rockets. The Harden trade had a lasting effect on Durant, a source previously told The Undefeated.
While Westbrook continued to improve to become an NBA superstar, Durant remained the face of the franchise and landed the 2014 NBA MVP award. Durant, Westbrook and the Thunder were eliminated in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Warriors last season.
Instead of returning to try to beat the Warriors, Durant joined them on July 4, 2016. The social media hate toward Durant has been nonstop from hurt Thunder fans and others. After choosing Golden State, Durant did the best he could to not listen to the noise that strongly affected those close to him. Meanwhile, Westbrook gave his ex-teammate the cold shoulder and became a 2017 NBA MVP candidate while breaking Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record this season.
Hardwick said he was impressed with Durant’s ability to not bite on the social media drama surrounding him. There were reports that Westbrook and Durant weren’t talking to each other. There have been stories that they have buried the hatchet. Both have declined to talk about it.
“All the s— is weird, celebrity,” Hardwick said. “Day-Day [Draymond Green] and Kyrie [Irving], they are the only ones I have the ear of. I don’t really need to talk to K.D. I appreciate the fact, and I got to respect this, that it didn’t really get to him … [Durant] had tough skin about it.
“I was probably more into how he dealt with Westbrook and how they dealt with each other, the whole start of that stuff. I wasn’t concerned about the fans. Because if you do what you need to do to fulfill yourself, your fans will follow.”
“I don’t get into that. I’m cool. Have fun with that,” Durant said.
Durant said he stopped paying attention to his naysayers upon arrival in Oakland, California.
“It’s basketball. I just try to leave it at that. I know how precious this game is. How fun it is. I just try to focus on that. All the other stuff, I’m not even worrying about,” Durant told The Undefeated.
The stakes were high when Durant entered Oracle Arena on Thursday morning.
Despite recently telling The Undefeated that he made the “100 percent correct decision” to come to Golden State, the skepticism toward his bold move has never ended. Durant’s friend Charlie Bell and CEO of The Durant Company Rich Kleiman said Durant was relaxed and in a great mood at home before heading to the game. Durant’s focus was on the game and not any other drama. He kept his game-day routine the same but was quietly nervous when the championship series started.
“I was anxious. I was tense. I had to calm down a bit. Start-of-the-game stuff. But what’s the worst that can happen? We lose,” Durant told The Undefeated. “I just try to keep that mindset. Obviously, you want to win the game. But it’s not life or death. You just use that approach and just play.”
The Warriors had nine days off between games after eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals on May 22. Warriors center Zaza Pachulia initially looked like he didn’t want to shoot. Forward Draymond Green picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter. Klay Thompson, arguably the NBA’s best 3-point shooter, missed all five of his 3-point attempts.
Durant, however, looked like one of the few Warriors without any jitters, scoring a game-high 23 points in the first half that led to a 60-52 lead at the break. The rest of the Warriors went 16-of-55 on field-goal attempts in the first half. The Warriors outscored Cleveland 53-39 in the second half, with Durant adding another 15 points.
“I was just playing, man,” Durant said. “The intensity was on another level when you are playing against the champs. I had no choice but to bring it. I couldn’t be the only one out there not bringing it. It didn’t feel like I was back in the Finals. It just felt like it was a highly intense game.”
Durant knows there is a lot more basketball that needs to be played before he can hoist the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy over his head. The odds are in the Warriors’ favor, but odds don’t shoot the basketball. The Warriors will never forget blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals a year ago.
With three more wins needed for redemption, Durant won’t pressure himself.
“It’s basketball. I just try to leave it at that. I know how precious this game is. How fun it is. I just try to focus on that. All the other stuff, I’m not even worrying about,” he said.
Hardwick said he’s “super close” to Durant and his mother, Wanda Durant, and described watching him in the NBA as “special.” Will it be special enough for Durant to lead the Warriors to a second title in three years and a first for him while dethroning James in the process? Well, until the eight-time NBA All-Star gets there, it sounds like he prefers to talk more with his game than his mouth.
Hardwick believes Durant has the power to finally be a champion.
“There is a selfish part of me that wishes he could have won in Oklahoma. But I think he dealt with it the best he could. He had a good night,” Hardwick said.