LeBron James, Kevin Durant Meet in Finals
Last November, LeBron James and Kevin Durant felt each other’s pain. Both players had just been eliminated from the 2011 NBA Playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks and they had the duration of the lockout to replay the losses in their head. With the season delayed, they couldn’t get the bad taste out of their mouths right away, but they could work hard to ensure that next year would be different.
James and Durant woke up early every morning and trained together at the University of Akron. They worked out in the weight room, exercised in the swimming pool, performed conditioning drills on the football field and ran through drills on the basketball court. The duo called the four-day span ‘Hell Week’ since the workouts were so rigorous.
James and Durant pushed each other to work harder and improve. Neither player wanted to endure another painful postseason loss. Both had dreams of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Seven months later, one player is guaranteed to achieve his goal. Only two teams remain in the 2012 NBA Playoffs: the Miami HEAT and Oklahoma City Thunder. James and Durant will come face-to-face again, competing across from one another just as they did in that empty Akron gym.
It was inevitable. At some point, Durant and James were going to collide in the NBA Finals. The three-time scoring champion against the three-time Most Valuable Player. The best player in the Western Conference against the best player in the Eastern Conference. The hero against the villain. Among all active players, James and Durant rank one and two in postseason points per game.
This is the match-up that the basketball world has been anticipating, with both players competing for their first ring.
After witnessing Durant’s work ethic firsthand during their training sessions, James realized that he would eventually have to defeat his workout partner if he wanted to win a championship.
“I envisioned it every day we worked out,” James said. “I understood what his passion was. I understood what his drive was. We pushed each other every single day during that four‑day span – ‘Hell Week – that we worked out in Akron. He was a little upset about the series in Dallas, where they got eliminated, and I was as well. So we pushed each other each and every day. I envisioned us getting to this point. I was happy for him that he was able to get to the Finals. I’m looking forward to going against him.”
James has a lot of respect for Durant and he wouldn’t want to battle anyone else for the title.
“It’s only right,” James said of facing Durant. “We look forward to the challenge. It’s going to be a big test for us.”
Oklahoma City and Miami played twice during the regular season, splitting the series with one win apiece.
In the first match-up, the Thunder won convincingly, 103-87. Durant had 28 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists, which was almost the first triple-double of his career. James struggled, finishing with just 17 points, 3 rebounds and 7 assists in the loss.
In the second game, the HEAT got the win, 98-93. This time around, James was nearly unstoppable. He finished with 34 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds compared to Durant’s 30 points and 9 turnovers.
Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook and James Harden will certainly be difference makers in the Finals, but all eyes will be on James and Durant. This is the individual match-up to watch, as two young men look to add a championship to already impressive résumés. Neither player is content with winning the Conference Finals. Both want to be the last man standing.
“We’re just one step closer to our dream,” Durant said. “We’ve just got to continue playing and believing. We all know how tough it’s going to be, but we’re going to fight. We’ll fight to the end no matter what. We’ll leave it all out on the floor and we’ll live with the results.”
“It’s been a journey,” James said. “It’s been a long ride. We’re happy we’ve been able to put ourselves in this position. We didn’t take any days off. We knew it was a process once again this year. We couldn’t shortcut anything this year. We’re happy to be back in this position. We look forward to the challenge.”
James and Durant are back at it, pushing each other once again. One man will pop champagne and build his legacy. The other will have a bad taste in his mouth for a second straight offseason.
Two superstars. One trophy. Who wants it more?