OAKLAND – It has been 30 days since Kevin Durant last suited up for the Warriors, and with a maximum of four games and nine days remaining in the NBA Finals, unwelcome reality is now conceivable.
Durant may be done for the year.
The Warriors aren’t saying he will miss what’s left of the NBA Finals, but the pattern of their statements since mid-May keeps sliding it closer to the possibility that the Toronto Raptors won’t have to deal with Durant.
It’s a mild calf strain. It’s more serious than we initially thought. He’s progressing. We don’t know when he’ll be back. He’s doing everything he can to get himself ready to play. We have to go with the guys we have. He had a really good workout today, ramped it up and it went well. He’s unavailable for Game 4, a game the Warriors desperately need to win trailing the series two-games-to-one.
It’s not as if Durant is shutting it down, as some have wondered and whispered. He is, by all accounts, as diligent with treatments and rehab as possible, sometimes going above and beyond what’s necessary. He wants to play, yearns for a chance to help the Warriors achieve their desired goal of a three-peat.
The Warriors, at this stage, must go forth as if KD will not be joining them for the remainder of the series against the Raptors. Maybe they’ve already adopted that mentality. He’ll be with them in spirit, and in person, but not active on the court, torching defenses as only he can.
“He's just trying to get healthy,” Draymond Green said. “I'm not really sure if he's been held out or he is – I mean, obviously, I think he's still recovering and whatever. But, yeah, I don't really know what's Kevin's day-to-day dealings with the training staff. I try to spend as (little) time in the training room as I can.”
Keep in mind that the Warriors are battling a health crisis. Green is playing through a cranky knee; he was wearing a wrap after practice Thursday. Klay Thompson missed Game 3 with a strained hamstring but is scheduled to play in Game 4 on Friday. Kevon Looney may miss the rest of the postseason with a fracture in his ribcage. Andre Iguodala is limping on a tender calf. Did we mention Stephen Curry’s dislocated finger? Or does that not register on the pain meter?
What the Warriors are trying to do is beat the odds, taking what’s left of their roster and defeating an opponent not only formidable but also fully healthy.
“Knowing he's not playing Game 4, we know what our rotations are going to be, everybody will lock in and go win that game,” Curry said. “And then when we get on the plane to go to Toronto, ask the same question. And we hope at some point he will be back, and when he does, like we said, we'll be able to transition our perspective with him available.
"But until then it's just on the daily, the moment is who is out there. Who is ready to play? And can we go win?”
The Raptors were going to be a credible threat even if the Warriors had everybody available. Toronto’s defense is built to test the Warriors’ discipline, and its offense – with five legitimate shooters on the floor the vast majority of the time – is almost built to exploit their switching defense.
If Durant is unable to play, or be effective, the Warriors would do well to push this to seven games. If they find a way to win, it will be an achievement of such magnitude it would dwarf their previous championships under coach Steve Kerr.
“It would suck if Kevin can't come back,” Thompson said. “I still think we would have a good chance to win The Finals, but obviously that takes a huge hit. I don't think it would make us the clear-cut favorite anymore without him. This team is very good.”
Yet there is an avenue to victory – Thompson actually plays and makes a positive impact. If he’s able to contain Toronto superstar Kawhi Leonard, it frees Green and Iguodala to jeopardize offenses with their anticipation, instincts and ability to shrink passing lanes.
If Thompson can toss in a few buckets, all the better for the defending champs. Without him in Game 3, the Warriors were straining to get offense from someone other than Curry. Thompson’s presence will provide the spacing that allows others to breathe, and maybe thrive.
Back when it was thought KD might return in two or three weeks, the Warriors were a lock to win it all. They’re now into Week 5, with no end in sight. They don’t have much choice to but accept that whatever their fate, it will be determined without Durant.