Before Kevin Durant and Jrue Holiday were teammates during Team USA’s run to gold at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this month, they squared off in a classic playoff series between Durant’s Nets and Holiday’s Bucks.
Durant nearly carried the hobbled Nets into the Eastern Conference Finals, but injuries were Brooklyn’s undoing as Milwaukee used a vintage performance by Giannis Antetokounmpo to seal the series in Game 7.
Still, Holiday – and the rest of the basketball world, for that matter – was able to fully appreciate what Durant brought to the table as arguably the game’s best player. One of the best defenders in the NBA, Holiday recently struggled to put into words how difficult it was guarding Durant.
“After that game, I was like ‘I cannot wait for it all to be over,’” Holiday said during an appearance on JJ Redick’s podcast, “The Old Man & The Three.” “Mentally, it was draining. Again, mentally it’s draining because you do everything you can to stop somebody, and it’s not working.”
“And Kevin Durant is pretty much, like, it’s going to sound weird – mentally penetrating you. And like he’s not stopping, and then physically, oh my gosh. Physically, I was hurting – everybody was.”
“Matter of fact, you can see K.D. (in) Game 7 – like you knew he was tired, you knew he was gassed. But man, both teams left it out there. After that series, I’m like ‘Man, look, whatever happens, we have to win now. We did too much and came too far.’”
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Holiday in Awe of Durant
On the flip side, wearing the same uniform as Durant was just as awe-inspiring an experience for Holiday. Both players played critical roles in leading Team USA to gold, and Holiday continued to marvel at K.D. throughout their journey in Tokyo.
“Oh my gosh. He is unreal,” Holiday said on Redick’s podcast. “He’s unreal. He makes the game look so easy. Nothing fazes him, how he plays. Yes, he’s 7-feet, but it’s like he doesn’t see anybody. It’s just like him and the hoop. It’s like cone drills. It’s just – if you were just going to work out, get into your bag and work on something, that’s his game and nobody fazes him. It’s amazing to see.”
Holiday did stop short (at 1:35 of the video), though, of saying Durant is the best player in the world, better than his teammate, Antetokounmpo. He was tempted to do so, but ultimately pulled back, pointing out that they were, “forgetting a couple of them in the Western Conference that are friggin’ insane.”
“Dang, bro,” Holiday said, “I’m not sure I can answer that question.”
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Durant Shines Brightest on World’s Biggest Stage
With 8.8 seconds remaining, Durant stepped to the free-throw line and knocked down both of his attempts to seal Team USA’s 87-82 win against France earlier this month.
Durant’s 29-point effort in the gold medal games came on the heels of 30-point games in each of his previous two gold medal games, in 2012 and 2016.
Durant, meanwhile, said his mindset was to simply leave it all on the court with a gold medal on the line.
“It’s winning time,” Durant said, per NBA.com. “It’s one game where you go home, it’s no series. I’ve gotta give my all every second I’m out there and I prepare the right way. I’ve just gotta go out there and trust that work. I was able to knock down some shots to keep us afloat a little bit. In the fourth quarter (Damian Lillard) took over for us and guys made plays at the end.”
The theme for this iteration of Team USA: overcoming adversity. And with its win over France in the championship game, its tournament in Tokyo came full circle.
“We went through some real adversity,” Durant said, per NBA.com. “We lost a game in the tournament, we lost two exhibition games. We had some unusual circumstances with COVID, guys playing in the Finals, coming in late, and we just fought through everything. Two-and-a-half weeks away from our families basically in a bubble. It was definitely different, so I’m glad we finished the job.”