TORONTO — One loss from being bounced from the NBA Finals, the Warriors are calling upon doctors, trainers, faith healers and voodoo queens to come to their aid as they turn their pleading eyes toward Kevin Durant.
Their plea is that KD is available for Game 5 on Monday night.
That’s the level of desperation surrounding the two-time defending champions.
Though there was no assurance Durant will play Monday, Warriors coach Steve Kerr announced Sunday that the veteran forward would participate in practice later that day. It’s Durant’s first practice since straining his right calf on May 8 in Game 5 of the Western Conference second-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets.
“Whether it's tomorrow or Game 6, we just have to do everything in our willpower to help him get back,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said before the team’s workout. “If that's win a game and be patient, then we got to go do that.
“But he will be very welcome, I'll say that much. I think it's pretty easy to realize we obviously miss him out there. He's propelled us to two championships in the last two years. So, it would be pretty storybook if he could come back and help us do the same.”
Getting the back-to-back Finals MVP in the lineup would give the Warriors their best chance to compete with the Toronto Raptors — and their only reasonable chance to climb out of a 3-1 hole.
To say the Warriors have missed Durant is a massive understatement. Pre-injury, he was having a tremendous postseason, averaging an NBA-best 34.2 points per game on 51.3 percent shooting, including 41.6 from beyond the arc.
Though Durant’s absence was not felt so much in the conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers, whom the Warriors swept, it’s rational to believe their chances of achieving a three-peat wouldn’t be in such extreme peril if he were healthy and available.
The Raptors are in command because they’ve been the better team. Shooting better from deep and overall. Shooting better from the free-throw line. Fewer turnovers and fouls, more steals and blocks.
To be fair, Durant’s absence has not been the only factor in Toronto’s superiority. Thompson left Game 2 with a strained hamstring and missed Game 3. Kevon Looney left Game 2 with a rib cartilage fracture and missed Game 3. Both returned in Game 4.
DeMarcus Cousins, coming off a six-week layoff after pulling a quadriceps muscle, was understandably rusty in Game 1, then really good in Game 2 but ineffective in Games 3 and 4.
All three are expected to play in Game 5.
Durant, however, is the trump card in these Finals. If he can play, and be effective, the Warriors would receive a boost in morale and overall quality of play.
“It's just having another powerful weapon out there that can do some very dynamic things on the floor,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. "We'll be able to adjust in transition pretty smoothly. He's been in plenty of Finals and has played well. No matter what percentage he's at, I'm sure he'll be impactful and effective out there.”
If Durant’s performance against the Raptors during the regular season is any indication, his availability and presence would be enormous. In two games, he scored 81 points, shooting 58.5 percent from the field, including 54.5 from beyond the arc. He also averaged 9.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
KD’s defensive presence would be no less significant. The Warriors in their depleted state are struggling to defend a Raptors team that has five shooters, all capable of launching from deep, on the floor at all times. Any depth would be helpful, but a 6-foot-11 defender with a 7-5 wingspan would be a gift.
“For sure,” Kerr said. “That's what we're hoping is the case, but we'll see. There's no doubt all that stuff matters. We just keep saying we got to just play with whoever is out there and that's the truth.”
That truth has resulted in the Warriors losing three of four games. They lost Game 3 at home despite 47 points from Curry, and lost Game 4 at home when their defense, incredible in the first quarter, got leakier in each quarter thereafter.
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The Warriors talk of staying focused on Game 5. That’s the right approach. If Durant is cleared, their fondest wish for Game 5 would he granted.
It might not be enough, but it’s a chance worth taking. Every time.