Kevin Durant is arguably the best scoring forward in the NBA today. Standing at borderline seven feet, equipped with superior ball handling and elite shooting, KD is a matchup nightmare for any defender.
Although KD has battled career-threatening injuries as of late, including a torn Achilles’ tendon that sidelined him for the 2019-2020 season, he has bounced back in dominant fashion this year. Despite playing only 35 games this season, Durant is proving to everyone in the playoffs that he is out to win his third NBA championship.
It isn’t surprising to see KD flourish in the playoffs, as he shown throughout in his career that he isn’t one to shy away from the bright lights. KD put up a dominant showing in the first round to eliminate the Celtics. And just recently, he toyed with former MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo in the ongoing Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Kevin Durant’s Five Biggest Rivals, Ranked
However, he has faced some of the toughest competitors in the playoffs that made life difficult for him. For this piece, let’s take a look at the five toughest playoff rivals that stood in the way of KD’s championship quests in the postseason.
A special mention goes to Jayson Tatum for fighting gallantly against KD and the Brooklyn Nets during the first round of this year’s playoffs. The Celtics star averaged 30.6 points per game and even exploded for 50 points in Game Three, which was their lone win. KD acknowledged the Celtics star’s greatness at a young age while talking about the series.
As a result, Tatum deserves a special mention in this list.
5) Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki was one of the most unstoppable players before his retirement. With a sweet fadeaway shot that is next to impossible to block, Nowitzki tormented a handful of elite players, including a young Kevin Durant during the Mavericks’ 2011 NBA Championship run.
After dispatching the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers in the Conference Semifinals, Nowitzki continued his torrid shooting against KD and the Thunder. Kevin Durant and his team simply had no answer for the German star. Nowitzki averaged 32.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He even dropped two 40- point games in the series to deny the Thunder from a Finals appearance. As we all know, Dirk and the Mavs went on to win the championship that year.
KD and Dirk would meet again the following year, with the former getting the series win this time around. Although Durant and his team would sweep the Mavericks in the first round, three of those four games were down to the wire. If it weren’t for Dirk, KD and Thunder wouldn’t have had to sweat in the first round of this series.
4) LeBron James
If there is a player that can stand toe-to-toe with KD in nearly all areas, the one player that comes to mind is LeBron James. With his brute strength, speed, and size, LBJ has the tools to keep Kevin Durant in check defensively. Although LBJ isn’t going to outshoot KD, The King makes up for it with his superior all-around game.
In the postseason, LBJ denied KD of a championship in his Finals debut in 2012. While playing for Miami, James overpowered KD and the Thunder in five games. LBJ averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game to win the NBA Finals MVP.
However, KD atoned for that Finals loss by winning their last two encounters in the postseason during the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals. Durant was the main cog that led the charge for the Warriors over James’ Cavs to win two straight NBA championships. Nevertheless, LBJ never made it easy for KD when they met each other in the Finals.
3) Kobe Bryant
Believe it or not, KD’s playoff debut ended up in naught thanks to the Black Mamba himself, Kobe Bryant. Kobe was a torn for the Thunder side in the 2010 First Round series, as he averaged 23.5 points per game while making 42.9% of his shots from deep. As we all know, Kobe and the Lakers went on to win the championship that year.
Kevin Durant and Kobe would duel one last time in 2012, with the former taking the win over the latter this time around. However, it wasn’t a walk in the park for Durant and the Thunder. Although the series was concluded in five games, three of those were tight battles. Furthermore KD and his team had to weather a defiant Kobe Bryant in the last three games. The Black Mamba put on a scoring display in the series, registering 31.2 points per outing including a 42 point game in Game Five.
2) Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry isn’t really KD’s matchup during games. However, Curry did torment Durant enough to force him to join him. In the 2016 Western Conference Finals, it looked like KD and the Thunder were ready to make their first Finals appearance since 2012 after taking a commanding 3-1 lead.
However, the Thunder surprisingly failed to close out the series. With Curry’s hot shooting, the Warriors won the final three games. The Warriors star dropped a string of 30-point games to force a ticket to the NBA Finals over the Thunder. Curry’s lights out shooting haunted Kevin Durant, as he averaged 27.9 points on 41.6% shooting.
With KD entering free agency that year, he decided to join Curry and the Warriors to win two straight NBA championships and Finals MVPs. However, those achievements were frowned upon by fans and critics, given that he joined an elite rival from the same conference.
Kawhi Leonard is arguably the best wing defender in the league today. Although Kevin Durant is probably one of the few players he couldn’t lockdown in the league, Leonard’s two way game has given KD all he could handle.
Although Durant has historically prevailed over Kawhi in terms of their series bouts, there’s no doubt that the latter has been a tormentor in former’s playoff trips. Leonard’s defense was a huge reason why the Durant didn’t make the Finals trip in 2014. Thanks to Leonard’s defense in the clutch, the Spurs were able to close the series in Game six.
Aside from this, Kawhi also prevailed in their last playoff duel in 2019, which was in the NBA Finals. Leonard solidified himself as a premier superstar when he took down Durant and the Warriors in six games despite being the lone star of his team.
Although injuries certainly affected Durant, as he only appeared in Game Five and went down with a torn achilles in the second quarter, it’s still official that Leonard was largely responsible for ending the Warriors dynasty.
With Kevin Durant not playing the full series that time, there;s no doubt that there’s still unfinished business between these two stars. Fortunately, both of these players are still in the postseason which leaves the door open for these two titans to duel once more under the bright lights of this year’s edition of the NBA Finals.