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Watching Milwaukee cruise to the NBA championship Tuesday night, Nets fans – whose team pushed the Bucks harder than anybody else this postseason, despite being decimated by injuries – couldn’t help but think two words: What if.
As in what if James Harden and Kyrie Irving hadn’t gotten hurt. What if Kevin Durant’s toe hadn’t tickled the line on what was oh-so-close to being the winning 3-pointer at the end of regulation in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semis.
But Durant himself – in Tokyo with Team USA, going for his third Olympic gold medal – says he doesn’t allow himself those kind of thoughts.
“Not really,” Durant said after Team USA practice in Tokyo, which equated roughly to 5 am Wednesday morning back in New York. “I mean, you played (to win). No moral victories you know? You only want to be last team standing in the NBA Finals, in the playoffs. So, no.
“I mean, we understand how good we are, and our goal wasn’t just to push the Bucks: Our goal was to win it. Unfortunately we didn’t. But congrats to the Bucks. They’re an amazing team who fought through a lot these last few years to get to this point, so nothing but respect for them.”
The Nets were good enough to stretch Milwaukee to Game 7. And that was despite Harden straining his hamstring just :43 into the second-round series and not returning until Game 5, and severely hampered even then. And it was despite Irving going down with a sprained ankle after landing on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Bucks star went on to an NBA Finals MVP performance, after Milwaukee swept the Heat, drilled the Hawks and closed out the Suns in six games.
And after Antetokounmpo’s mammoth 50-point performance in Tuesday’s 105-98 clincher, he appeared to throw some shade at Brooklyn’s Big Three.
“I wanted to get the job done. But that’s my stubborn side. It’s easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else,” said Antetokounmpo. “It’s easy.
“I could go to…I don’t want to put anybody on the spot, but I could go to a superteam and just do my part and win a championship. But this is the hard way to do it, and this is the way we chose to do it. And we did it. We f–king did it.”
There have been several superteams in the league over the past decade, and LeBron James started the trend when he bolted Cleveland in 2010 and took his talents to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. He took it to an art form when he went to Los Angeles and lured Anthony Davis there last season.
Both of those master plans resulted in crowns for King James.
Durant watched and learned, and eventually became synonymous with superteams after he bolted Oklahoma City in 2016 to join the Splash Brothers in Golden State that had won the championship a year before. He earned a pair of rings with the Warriors and likely would’ve won a third if he hadn’t ruptured his Achilles.
Injuries short-circuited the Nets’ push, even if Durant wouldn’t use them as an alibi.
But even on the eve of the Bucks’ coronation, the pundits and oddsmakers were projecting Durant and his Nets will rule the league next season.
Brooklyn (+225) was installed as the betting favorite by William Hill and BetMGM, with James’ Lakers also ahead of champion Milwaukee. Apparently, Las Vegas is expecting to see that What If become a reality.
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