After Kevin Durant’s heroic Game 3 performance that included a 14-point fourth quarter, Paul Pierce said on ESPN, “What we’re witnessing right here is the changing of the guard.”
Pierce recited Durant’s stat line — 31 points, eight rebounds, and four assists — and the fact that he did it against LeBron James on the road. He said, “What more can you ask for, from in my eyes — the new best player in the NBA?”
Pierce had initially suggested that Durant might be the best player in the world after Game 2 on NBA Countdown.
“Six assists tonight. 10-plus rebounds. He may be the best player in the world today. Today. I mean, we’re on the final stage. LeBron is giving you good numbers. What can’t he (KD) do? What can’t he do on the court?”
You could accuse Pierce of being caught up in the moment — which is a fair argument. But the idea that Durant may soon be surpassing James as the league’s best player isn’t that absurd. As far as this NBA Finals goes, Durant has outperformed James. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Durant has 31 points in the fourth quarter in the series, compared to James’ 11 points.
Durant’s also performed well against James offensively when pinned against each other one-on-one:
Kevin Durant is now shooting 13-of-21 for 31 points when defended by LeBron Jame— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 8, 2017
To be fair, Pierce also is confident in the Cavaliers and James moving forward. He said on KG’s Area 21 in early May, “As long as LeBron James is in the East, he will be in the NBA Finals.”
That doesn’t mean Pierce approves of Durant being in Golden State. He criticized Durant’s move to the Warriors as recent as May 30, when he compared his move to a kid becoming friends with bullies on ESPN’s The Jump.
“I’m just not built like that,” Pierce said. “I’m not a guy who goes into the neighborhood, gets beat up by the bully’s gang and now I want to join your gang. That’s just not me. I want to fight. Let’s go. I’m gonna stand up for myself.”
The debate between who is the best player in the NBA between Durant and James almost certainly heat up once we head into the offseason.
At the very least, there’s no question that they’re the two best (though there’s a good argument for Kawhi Leonard).