For years, basketball fans refused to rank Kevin Durant ahead of LeBron James because of the quality of his teammates. Durant is a two-time NBA champion but, having won those titles on arguably the greatest roster in NBA history with the Golden State Warriors, many have questioned their value compared to the greatest postseason runs from other all-time greats. When his Brooklyn Nets acquired James Harden, it seemed like more of the same was coming in the 2021 postseason.
But Harden and Kyrie Irving both got hurt in the second round against the Milwaukee Bucks, and that gave Durant an opportunity to prove what he could do without such support. Across the final three games of the series, he averaged 43 points and came mere inches away from ending the series with a 3-pointer at the end of Game 7. His foot was just barely on the line, though, so the shot counted for only two points, and the Nets lost in overtime.
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That loss contributed to Scottie Pippen's skepticism of Durant as the NBA's best player. When Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports asked Pippen if Durant had indeed surpassed James, he argued that Brooklyn's star hadn't, in part because he ultimately didn't win the series for the Nets.
"Surpassing LeBron James takes a little bit more than an individual's effort. LeBron James is a complete team player who understands team and winning. Has K.D. gotten to that level yet? He went home," Pippen said. "To say that he's surpassed LeBron, I think he still has some learning to do in terms of what it takes to will a team to victory. Give Brooklyn a lot of credit. They lost Kyrie, James Harden probably was less than 50 percent. It just wasn't seeing the same player, but still, it was a heck of a series."
Pippen is a six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, and as such, he appears to prioritize the end result above all else. His playing style as a pass-first forward is far closer to James' than Durant's, who plays more similarly to Pippen's former teammate, the score-first Michael Jordan.
But Durant had 10 assists as part of a triple-double in a critical Game 5 win over the Bucks. He averaged 6.3 per game to go along with 12.3 rebounds and some of the best defense of his career in the final three games of that series. While Durant's all-around resume isn't quite as impressive as LeBron's, his performance against Brooklyn proved that he is far more than just a scorer.
Does that mean that he has surpassed James? That is ultimately subjective. James finished this season with an injured ankle. It's hard to tell just how good he remains at the age of 36 because of that ankle sprain. Durant stated his case against the Bucks in the second round. Next season will give James an opportunity to respond.