CLEVELAND - When the news cycle shifts as rapidly as it does in the social media era, it's easy to forget that just a week ago, Kevin Durant's penchant for isolation basketball was seen as the rare weak spot in the Golden State Warriors' armor.
In the five-game stretch beginning with Game 4 of the Western Conference finals and ending with Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Durant shot 39.6 percent from the field while averaging 21.2 field-goal attempts per game, leaving many to question whether the 2014 MVP truly fits on a star-studded team that preaches ball movement above all else.
"Did they watch tonight?" Stephen Curry asked of the doubters after Durant torched the Cleveland Cavaliers for a postseason career-high 43 points on 65 percent (15-of-23) shooting in Game 3 of The Finals. "They found out.
"We have a great balance. I think when we're playing well, a lot of what we do is ball movement, player movement, the whole deal, getting everybody touches. But when guys have the skill like (Durant) does to be able to shoot over the top of guys, get to a spot - You don't want to force feed it. You want it to come out in our offense and let him do what he does - But yes, it's nice to have that option along with all the other things that we do offensively."
Durant has rebounded from his five-game slump with two of the finest performances of his postseason career, pouring in 69 points on 42 shooting possessions between Games 2 and 3 of The Finals, leading the Warriors to the precipice of another championship while positioning himself for a second consecutive Bill Russell Award as Finals MVP.
Nearly two years after his decision to join a 73-win team shook the NBA to its core, Durant has yet to fully rehabilitate his public image. He's an easy target for those who say the 29-year-old robbed the league of competitive balance, and for others who simply can't find the same joy in watching a Durant-led Warriors team coast through stretches of games before deferring to 1-on-1 basketball.
But if the last two championship series have taught us anything, it's that while Curry's floor-warping ways remain the crux of Golden State's personality, Durant's presence and individual brilliance are what put the Warriors over the top.
"You guys asked me this last year, 'what was the difference between the Warriors the previous year and this year?' and what was my answer?" LeBron James asked the media during his postgame news conference Wednesday night.
"'Kevin Durant' was my answer. He's one of the best players that I've ever played against that this league has ever seen. His ability to handle the ball, shoot the ball, make plays at his length, his size, and his speed."
With overmatched defenders reaching all night, Durant decimated James' Cavaliers with a dizzying array of jumpers from all over the court, including some of the deepest 3-pointers of his career.
"Some of those shots (he was making), I don't think anybody in the world can hit those but him. He was incredible," Steve Kerr said of Durant's remarkable Game 3 performance.
"I just like the way he's attacking. He's not waiting around. He's attacking right away on the catch, and it's devastating to have to guard that. Kevin was the story in the first half, just keeping us in the game, and then he was the story in the second half as well, closing it out."
The Cavs jumped out to a 16-4 lead in front of a boisterous Quicken Loans Arena crowd, but could've had an even more convincing start if not for Durant's early exploits.
Durant scored 13 first-quarter points on 4-of-4 shooting and grabbed all seven of Golden State's first-quarter rebounds, single-handedly keeping the champs afloat while the rest of his team sputtered.
"It’s good to have Kevin Durant. Let’s be honest," Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said when asked about his team winning a Finals game despite Curry and Klay Thompson combining to shoot 7-of-27 from the field. "It was a hell of a game individually. We should have been down 20."
Instead, the Warriors were within one after the first quarter, eventually wrestled control away from the Cavs in the third quarter, and then delivered the death blow by way of a 33-foot Durant bomb with 49 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. That shot gave Golden State a six-point lead, and felt eerily similar to the Game 3 dagger Durant hit a year ago at The Q, from virtually the same spot at almost the same time.
"I think this one was more of a dagger because it put us up six rather than just one point like last year. You could relax a little more," Thompson said. "It was an amazing shot. He looked like he was 37, 38 feet from the rim. When he’s got it going, it’s almost impossible to stop."
The Cavs, and the NBA at large, are once again being reminded of that fact on the game's biggest stage.
The Warriors didn't need much help before Durant arrived in The Bay two summers ago. They may have gone about things in a more aesthetically pleasing way, too.
But he's the reason they're about to be two-time defending champions, and that shouldn't be lost in the deflating feeling of inevitability that follows this team.