OAKLAND -- The Warriors are, not by design but out of dreaded necessity, down to the Three Originals.
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
Their fate in this NBA postseason will be determined by the play of the three players on the roster with the longest tenures as Warriors.
This is not what the Warriors wanted after composing a starting lineup that was the envy of the NBA and perhaps leagues beyond.
It is, rather, exactly what they feared.
They sailed into the playoffs. And now they’re in the thick of it, facing perhaps the greatest challenge, and 40 percent of that imposing lineup is unavailable. First DeMarcus Cousins and now Kevin Durant.
Cousins, a one-season rental that fell into their laps last July, was lost after sustaining a torn left quadriceps muscle on April 16 in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Clippers.
Durant, the MVP of the last two NBA Finals, went down Wednesday night with a right calf strain sustained in the third quarter of a 104-99 victory over the Rockets in Game 5 of their second-round series.
The win gave the Warriors a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, but this was Pyrrhic in nature. While they hope to extend the postseason long enough to activate Cousins, who still is weeks away, there is no idea how long the Warriors will be without Durant, who will undergo an MRI exam Thursday.
“We'll see what happens the next 24, 48 hours on the injury front,” Curry said. “But we've had the next-man-up mentality for a long time now. Hopefully the situation will be no different. It will be challenging.”
Durant has been outstanding in these playoffs, entering Wednesday averaging 35.4 points per game on 51.8 percent shooting, including 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. He had put in a team-high 22 points before he limped into the locker room for good.
“We’ve got to have his back the way he's been honestly carrying us the entire playoff run,” Curry said. “That's what makes a great team: Whoever is out there is just making plays.”
They did, behind Curry, Green and Thompson.
“You lose your best player, it's deflating,” Thompson said. “We’ve got a lot of competitors on this team that play with great heart.”
The Warriors had a 68-65 lead when KD exited with 2:05 left in the third quarter and lost it 50 seconds later. The teams exchanged leads twice in the fourth quarter before the Warriors took it for good on a Thompson fadeaway with 5:36 remaining.
It was a Thompson 3-pointer, giving the Warriors a 97-89 lead with 2:34 remaining, that allowed the sellout crowd at Oracle Arena to exhale just a bit.
“If Kevin is out, then what you saw in the fourth quarter is what you're going to have to see going forward," Kerr said. "We're going to have to find a way. But got it done today.”
A Warriors roster made strong by five All-Stars, at the cost of quality reserves, now is forced to rely on complementary players whom they’d hoped to use only sparingly during this postseason. They wonder if they have enough able bodies to get through the Rockets and beyond.
“It’s all about understanding that if we use each other, we’re still a damn good team,” Green said. “Steve said in the huddle like, ‘Hey, Kevin’s out. We’ve won a lot of games with this group. Lock in and go get the job done.’
“We were able to do that. Shoot, it’s not going to be easy losing Kevin. One guy goes down and the rest have to step up.”
The Warriors hope to get enough from the likes of Kevon Looney, who was fabulous in Game 5. They’ll have to turn to others, too, but that is such a mystery.
They do know they have Curry, Green and Thompson, three men who have been tested through seven years as a trio, reaching the playoffs all seven seasons.