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MILWAUKEE — Kevin Durant authored one of the great playoff performances ever in Brooklyn’s Game 5 comeback, and had the Nets on the brink of clinching the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday.
Durant’s 48-minute, 49-point triple-double showed why he’s arguably the best player on the planet. And showed why the Knicks were so desperate to get him that they met with his father before 2019 free agency to try to convince him to sign.
But the Nets won the day two years ago this month, when they landed Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan in free agency. And thanks to Durant, they came into Thursday’s Game 6 just a win away from being in the conference final.
“He’s the reason we won,” Jeff Green said. “He put us on his back and he carried us.”
The seeds for that Game 5 victory were sown 2 ½ years ago, when Durant decided to leave Golden State and come to Brooklyn. His mother Wanda told The Post her son needed a change from the Warriors.
“It was just a choice,” Wanda told The Post. “It was an option, it was there, and he decided he wanted something different.”
Excerpts from author Matt Sullivan’s newly published book, “Can’t Knock the Hustle” peeled back the layers on how Durant went from leaving the Warriors to joining the Nets.
With Durant still playing for Golden State and Irving for the Celtics, a Warriors road trip brought them through Boston. The night before Durant led his team to a Jan. 26 win, he had dinner at Irving’s Weston (Mass.) mansion.
Irving was already intent on getting out of Boston, and that night over some wine and a vegan meal, the next NBA superteam was formulated.
As Sullivan detailed:
KD would follow Kyrie’s lead. That night in the suburbs, he even ate a vegan burger for the first time. “I could f— with this,” he said. A super-team was starting to be formed, over a side of kale salad and… clink.
KD and Kyrie went upstairs to the playroom, shared a vegan smoothie, shot a Nerf ball into a toy hoop and played NBA2K. Controlling miniature versions of themselves and their teammates, like marionettes, they wondered how else they could string together a team that was going somewhere. “And from that point,” Kyrie said, “we took the power back and put it in our hands.”
It’s been well-documented that Durant, Irving and Jordan had talked about playing together as far back as the 2016 Olympics.
But this is where the Nets came into focus — despite the Knicks’ best efforts, and some borderline tampering.
When Durant texted his sometimes-estranged father to ask him his thoughts on Brooklyn, Wayne Pratt told his son about a video meeting he’d had with Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry. As Sullivan detailed, Durant wasn’t happy with the meddling and “did not want his pops f—ing with the plan.”
And that plan was Brooklyn, despite his Knick-fan father’s prodding, according to Sullivan:
The Knicks is Mecca, KD’s dad proclaimed. If you want to do it, do it big! If you want to be a New Yorker, be a Knick!
New York City was the Mecca of basketball, and KD wanted to live there. But he felt like Brooklyn was his vibe: “chill, on the low, all-black everything.” He’d been eyeing the Nets for years now, and they him.
It was a long engagement, the Nets having to wait an entire year — really, a year and a half — for Durant to recover from his ruptured Achilles. And there were bumps in the road: missing more time this season due to calf and hamstring injuries and COVID-19 protocols. But these playoffs are why Brooklyn gladly gave him $164 million.
Irving went down with a sprained ankle in Game 4, and hamstrung James Harden had played just 43 seconds in this series until Game 5. But Durant led the way.
With Tuesday’s historic performance, Durant had the Nets a step from the conference final. But it was the latest step in a long journey, one that started years ago over veggies and vino, and they hope ends in victory.
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