Numbers show Warriors need Kevin Durant in 2019 NBA Finals vs. Raptors

Numbers show Warriors need Kevin Durant in 2019 NBA Finals vs. Raptors

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.

[RELATED: Kerr says it's 'feasible' KD plays after only one practice]

“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.

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 108-100 loss to depleted Pelicans


Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 108-100 loss to depleted Pelicans


Coming into town to face an injury-depleted team on the second night of a back-to-back set, the Warriors appeared to be in reasonably good position win their third game of the season.

Instead, they took their 12th defeat – and seventh in a row.

The Warriors, nearly as diminished by injuries, took a tip-to-buzzer 108-100 loss to the Pelicans on Sunday night at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Four players scored in double figures, led by Eric Paschall’s game-high 30 points, but the Warriors (2-12) were outrebounded and outshot, particularly from the 3-point line by the Pelicans (3-10).

Here are three takeaways from a defeat that saddled the Warriors with their longest losing streak since they dropped eight straight in April 2012:

Defense rests, is burned by triples

The Warriors displayed signs of coming out of their defensive malaise in taking the Celtics down to the wire two nights ago. Outrebounding Boston allowed them to better set up their defense, and the results were encouraging.

That level of defensive aggression and execution didn’t make the trip to New Orleans.

The Warriors were particularly vulnerable defending the 3-point arc.

The Pelicans, who entered as the fifth-best 3-point shooting team the league, took advantage, launching at will. They drained nine triples in the first half, as JJ Redick, one of the more proficient deep shooters in NBA history and undoubtedly on the scouting report, repeatedly got open looks and buried five 3-balls before halftime. He scored a team-high 26 points.

That New Orleans shot 39.1 percent (18-of-46) from deep is clear evidence that any defensive progress displayed by the Warriors two days earlier against a quality opponent went into deep regression against an inferior team.

More points for Paschall

With D’Angelo Russell out of the lineup, the Warriors have an urgent need for scoring. Enter Eric Paschall.

On a night when offense was hard to come by, Paschall kept the Warriors in the game early, with 24 points through the first three quarters, when no other Warrior had more than 11.

Operating both inside and outside, Paschall’s 30 points came on 10-of-17 shooting, including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. He also was 8-of-10 from the free throw line. Playing 35 minutes, he also grabbed seven rebounds.

Paschall now has two games with at least 30 points, four with at least 20 and nine in which he scored in double figures.

The powerfully built rookie is, at this point, the team’s most effective scorer. In effect, he has become the Warriors’ go-to guy.

[RELATED: Draymond, Bowman to take over while Russell is out]

Waiting for Jordan

The Warriors drafted Jordan Poole in the first round June believing he had the goods to become their next great deep shooter. His work in the preseason did little to argue against that.

But it’s not happening in the regular season, and this night was the latest in an ever-extending line of futile performances.

Coming off the bench for the second consecutive game, Poole was scoreless over 23 minutes, with 0-of-7 shooting from the field, including 0-of-3 from beyond the arc.

If ever there was a game when his scoring touch was desperately needed – and surely would have made a difference – this was it.

Warriors to use Ky Bowman, Draymond Green in D'Angelo Russell's place

Warriors to use Ky Bowman, Draymond Green in D'Angelo Russell's place

The Warriors got some bad news when D'Angelo Russell's MRI confirmed a sprained right thumb that will keep him out of the lineup for at least two weeks, but their coach actually was a bit relieved.

"I was concerned that it was going to be worse," Steve Kerr told the media Saturday, "so a couple weeks, you know, we can handle. If this had been something more severe, we would have been in some real trouble. So, we'll deal with it and I'm glad it's not worse. We look forward to getting him back, but in the meantime, we've got four games on the road. We've got to figure out a way to hold down the fort."

Golden State will play the first of those four consecutive road games Sunday in New Orleans against the short-handed Pelicans, and Kerr has a plan for how the Warriors will fill the point guard spot in Russell's absence.

"Draymond [Green] will play a lot of point, and Ky [Bowman] will have the ball in his hands quite a bit," Kerr said. "We're down to nine players, and really only two real guards I would say, with Jordan [Poole] and Ky. So our wings are going to have to handle the ball quite a bit, and Draymond is really good in a facilitating role anyway, so Draymond will handle the ball quite a bit."

Bowman, who is on a two-way contract, didn't seem phased by the promotion.

"I just go out there and play my role," Bowman said. "That's scoring, that's defense ... just play my role."

The Warriors didn't expect to rely on Bowman as much as they have in the early part of the season, but they've had to out of necessity with the injuries to Russell, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Despite being a consistent member of the rotation, he conceded that people ask him more about his teammates than his own experience.

"What are the players like, really," Bowman replied when questioned as to what fans ask him. "What is Draymond like. That's what everybody wants to know."

[RELATED: Slew of Warriors’ injuries hinders young core’s development]

Perhaps they'll have some different questions for him over the next couple weeks.