TORONTO – After peeping beyond statistics and adjustments and intangibles and experience variables, it becomes apparent that the fortunes of the Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals may well be decided by something much simpler.
More specifically, two calves: Kevin Durant’s ailing right and Andre Iguodala’s tender left.
For the Warriors to have a reasonable chance of climbing out of a one-game-to-none hole to defeat the Toronto Raptors at least four times, they will need at least one of these legs to recover enough to allow its owner to play at his customary level.
If both Iguodala and Durant are able to perform, and well, as early as next Wednesday for Game 3 in Oakland, the Warriors can look forward to their third annual championship parade.
If neither responds positively to treatment, somebody else on the roster had better wrap himself in a cape, prove he can fly and carry the Warriors to their desired three-peat.
Iguodala, who limped off the court in the fourth quarter of Game 1, underwent an MRI exam on the same left calf that has nagged him periodically this season and caused the Warriors to hold him out of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals last week in Portland. The test result was clean, and the veteran pronounced himself able to play in Game 2 on Sunday.
Simply being available to play may not be enough. It wasn’t enough on Thursday. Iguodala played decent defense, but he couldn’t punish the Raptors for giving him plenty of room to shoot 3-pointers. He was 0-of-4, with three on wide open looks.
Iguodala acknowledges he needs to be more aggressive offensively when any one of the team’s primary scorers – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or Durant – is out. If he makes two of those triples in Game 1, he puts additional pressure on the Toronto defense. It changes the game.
“It doesn't come down to how many shots Andre makes,” coach Steve Kerr said Friday. “It comes down to defense and getting stops. That's what the playoffs are about. We didn't get enough stops.”
We beg to differ. The Warriors actually needed both to win Game 1. They were hurt by sluggish defense and also because Andre couldn’t make the Raptors pay. He can shoot the 3; he entered the game shooting 37-percent from deep in the playoffs. He was 12-of-25 in the second round against Houston, including five 3-balls in the Game 6 clincher.
The Raptors, however, gambled and won – probably because Iguodala’s cranky calf is affecting his shooting mechanics. If the calf is sound, he’s a different shooter.
And, again, Igoudala’s offense becomes significant when Durant is out. KD is progressing and went through light drills on Friday, but he has not been cleared for contact practices. There is a slight chance he’ll do more on Saturday, but the Warriors realize they have to be careful.
The three common injuries that require the most caution are groin, hamstring and calf. Based on severity, it could be a matter of weeks or months. And all three are easy to aggravate if not fully healed.
“It's not like this is a sore ankle or his knee is sore, whatever, and you can play through it,” Kerr said. This is a tricky one.”
The Warriors hope Durant’s calf heals sufficiently to enable him to practice by next Tuesday. That would be a win for him – KD desperately wants to play – and, of course, for the team.
For now, he’s restricted to unofficial coach status. Durant has been active in providing tips and pointers to his teammates. He can’t help physically, so he’s doing what he can mentally. He wants to be involved, and his teammates appreciate that.
“He's on the bus to shootaround or to practice,” Draymond Green said. “Once you start to get closer, you start to kind of move back into a normal schedule. You starting to see him, hear his voice more. You're starting to hear him coming up with adjustments even before the game, giving his input.”
The Warriors have six chances to win four games. The Raptors are a terrific team, with abundance of shooting and speed. The kind of opponent that requires an active, agile defense that requires healthy legs.
If the Warriors get one more healthy leg by Sunday, they’re ready to roll. If they get two more by next Wednesday, they’re in great shape. If they get neither, this is going to be quite the task.
They’re getting an unwanted reminder that the NBA, at its best, is a league of legs.