TORONTO – Kevin Durant might play in Game 3. Or maybe Game 4. Probably Game 5, assuming the NBA Finals last at least five games.
Which is a safe assumption because the Warriors, even without Durant, will not be swept by the Toronto Raptors. Not as long as Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson are upright and physically able.
Yet it is Durant, thought by an irrational few to be non-essential, who in his absence looms larger than any other Warrior.
That much was evident in Game 1, lost by the Warriors due to a combination of sluggishness, sloppiness and the fact that the Raptors are built – with athleticism and skill on both ends – to give the Durant-less Warriors fits.
This series, perhaps more than of the Finals matchups with Cleveland, is one in which Durant provides a significant edge. The Warriors are 0-3 against the Raptors this season, and in the two games in which KD played he was easily the team’s most potent offensive threat.
For the record, it’s not even close.
Game 1, Nov. 29 in Toronto: Durant scores 51 points, shooting 18-of-31 from the field, including 4-of-7 from deep. Elite defenders Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam take turns getting torched. Durant also goes 11-of-12 from the line. He adds 11 rebounds and six assists, with one turnover. The Warriors, without Curry and Green, lose by 3 in overtime.
Game 2, Dec. 12 in Oakland: Durant scores 30 points on 13-of-22 shooting, including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. Curry and Thompson combine for 10-of-29 shooting, 2-of-13 from deep. Durant adds seven rebounds and five assists but also commits five turnovers. The Warriors lose by 20.
Game 3, Game 1 of The Finals, May 30 in Toronto: A right calf strain renders Durant unavailable. Curry scores 34 points on 8-of-18 shooting, including 4-of-9 from deep, and goes 14-of-14 from the line. Thompson scores 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting, including 3-of-6 from deep. Green posts a triple-double, with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. The Warriors lose by nine.
The Raptors have had some success defending Curry, particularly when scrappy reserve Fred VanVleet gets the assignment. Curry is 11-of-30, 6-of-17 from deep. Thompson, who played in all three games, is 24-of-54, 6-of-20 from deep.
At no time, however, has there been anything to indicate the Raptors can guard Durant. He’s not just a great player. He’s the only clear edge the Warriors have, and that can’t be overstated.
Toronto is an excellent defensive team, appreciably better than the Warriors have been this postseason. Toronto also is an excellent offensive team, and unique in its ability to spread the floor with five quality shooters at any time. The Warriors are superior offensively, but they have fallen off without Durant and the Raptors are pouncing.
“They were locked into their coverages and they did a good job of it,” Green said, referring to Game 1. “It's on us to counter that and use the way they're guarding certain things against them, and we have been pretty successful at doing that.”
The Warriors can’t be counted out if Durant isn’t able to play, but they certainly can swing the series in their favor if he can return once the series moves to Oakland.
Meanwhile, KD is restricted to light individual workouts and providing tips to his teammates. The hope is that he’ll available Wednesday for Game 3. At the latest, Friday for Game 4.
“We're all in this together,” Curry said. “We've said it for the entire year. He's exemplifying that with his presence in the locker room here, and again when he gets back on the floor, being able to transition pretty smoothly. We’re waiting on that.”
Waiting is all they can do. The longer the wait, the higher the anxiety.