With four minutes left in the third quarter of Wednesday night's Game 5 between the Warriors and Houston Rockets, the air was sucked out of Oracle Arena.
Kevin Durant was limping back to the Warriors' locker room after suffering a lower-leg injury that many Twitter doctors feared was a torn Achilles. To make matters worse, the Dubs had blown a 20-point lead and Steph Curry still was looking for his shot.
Things looked dire, but these are the Warriors, lest we forget. The greatest collection of individual talent in NBA history would not be undone by the loss of one of its three stars, would they?
The answer, at least in Game 5, was a resounding no. Curry found his stroke, pouring in 16 of his 25 points after Durant's exit to lead the Dubs to a 104-99 win and a three-games-to-two series lead.
While the Warriors survived Game 5 without their 7-foot offensive robot, Charles Barkley doesn't think they can do it again. Against the Rockets, or any other team remaining in the playoffs.
Following Golden State's Game 5 win, Barkley gave the Dubs no shot of advancing if Durant is unable to play.
"They don't got no chance to win it without Kevin Durant," Barkley said. "This series or any other series. Kevin Durant made them unbeatable. They are not going to beat the Rockets without KD, and they are not going to beat Portland or Denver without KD. That's how important he is. He made them a dynasty. Don't sleep on that.
"People say, 'They won one,' Well they did, and they was terrific. And they won 72. They lost that series. But that was like five years ago. People act like that was two years ago. They did not become a juggernaut until KD got there. Everybody who knows basketball, he's the guy who made them a dynasty. They are not going to beat the Rockets."
“The Warriors have no chance of winning without Kevin Durant. This series or any other series.” 👀— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 9, 2019
-Charles on Golden State pic.twitter.com/0KN2KDhb01
The Warriors announced Thursday that Durant has a mild right calf strain and will be re-evaluated in a week. He will not be available for the remainder of the series against the Rockets.
The Warriors' "Core Four" turned back the clock a bit Wednesday, as Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green powered them to a crucial win. But they'll need to be even better to finally eliminate the Rockets. Golden State certainly has the firepower to win one more game against their rivals and then regroup for a Western Conference finals battle with either the Denver Nuggets or Portland Trail Blazers.
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But without Durant, the Warriors' margin for error shrinks considerably. Their bench has been borderline unplayable at times against the Rockets, and now they might have to find a way to survive without their security blanket. It will be up to Curry to lead the Warriors past James Harden and Co. and into the Western Conference finals. It won't be easy, but the Warriors have the talent and championship pedigree to weather the storm.
The Warriors have been sticking to a seven-man rotation for the most part against the Rockets, with Alfonzo McKinnie playing sparingly. But now, the two-time defending NBA champions must adjust their lineup and gameplan if they plan to continue their march to a third straight NBA title.