Should the Golden State Warriors win their third straight NBA championship – and who would bet against it – it’s beginning to look as if they might have to without Kevin Durant.
His injured right calf appears to be more problematic than originally thought. He was re-evaluated on Thursday and the doctors came away grim-faced after deciding he was not ready to return to practice.
Suddenly the breathless conjecture about when he’ll return seems to be replaced with the discussion of how the Warriors will move on without him.
You’d have to admit they are doing pretty well. They won Game 2 of their Western Conference final Thursday over the Portland Trail Blazers, although they trailed for long stretches. Their 114-111 win ultimately came down to the flick of Andre Iguodola’s hand.
What bears repeating is how deep the Warriors still are and that the addition of Durant in 2016 only made them more formidable. They won a championship without him. And with him, it only makes their chances even better.
The Warriors say Durant will not play in Game 3 or 4 and have no idea when he might be back. He won’t be with the team in Portland and will not be re-evaluated for a week. What’s usually true in these circumstances is things are more dire than teams let on.
“Hopefully he continues to progress, and he has made progress but it’s a little more serious than we thought at the very beginning,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday. “So we’ll see where it all goes, but he’s in there all day long getting treatment. He’s done a great job of committing himself to that process. … hopefully he’ll be back at some point, but we’ll just wait and see.”
Durant’s teammates are prepared to move on without him.
“I think you have to as a player,” Draymond Green said. “We can’t sit and look over our shoulder and say, ‘Hey, man, when is K going to be back?’ We just got to play with whatever we got. We got to play and give him an opportunity to get back, and I think that’s what really falls on our shoulders. Obviously, like you said, we’re a much better team with him on the floor, and that’s on both sides of the ball, but right now we’re a very confident group, and you know, we got everybody stepping up and giving great minutes, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Of course, what’s left unsaid here is Durant’s extended absence is simply getting the organization ready for next season when he likely won’t be there at all. Durant’s impending free agency has hung over the team like a storm cloud and it might pour soon. Heck, there have been reports he already has a wink-and-nod understanding with the New York Knicks.
If that’s true, the next few weeks should give the Warriors more confidence in their ability to play with flair and success without Durant, just like they did before he came to town.
Durant certainly didn’t pass the eye test on Thursday. He was walking around the arena with a limp. Remember, the Warriors originally thought he’d suffered a torn Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the second-round series against the Houston Rockets.
The NBA Finals begin on May 30 no matter how long this series or Milwaukee-Toronto lasts. That gives Durant two weeks to rest and recover.
“We miss him,” Klay Thompson said. “I mean, that’s obvious to see. [His absence] does not change my approach. Just got to go out there and play my style of basketball and just hope for a speedy recovery. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the game and we’ll desperately need him to three-peat, and that’s no secret about that.”
As for the present, the Trail Blazers pushed the Warriors hard on Thursday. They lead by 15 at halftime. Then it all came down to one final possession with 10 seconds left when Damian Lillard was trying to buy himself space to launch a three-pointer that could have tied the game.
Iguodola stole the ball from Lillard, who later contended that he probably was fouled on the play.
“I know it’s a tough position for the referees to be in to make a call at that point in the game,” Lillard said. “I tried to get a little bit of space the first time. He grabbed my arm, and I lost the ball a little bit. I regained it, and I was going to shoot it again. He got his hand on the ball.
“For me, as the offensive player, I felt like it was contact. There was a lot of contact. But obviously, the ref is not going to decide the game or jump in at that point. You know, so … good defensive play.”
Golden State trailed by eight in the fourth quarter after Meyers Leonard drained a three with 4:28 to play. But the Trail Blazers missed their final eight shots.
“We’re confident we can win, but we would much rather have him (Durant) playing,” Stephen Curry said. “So we’re going to hold the fort down until he gets back and go win another championship with our full squad.”