TORONTO — Kevin Durant was lengthy gone by the point the Golden State Warriors’ locker room opened after Thursday night time’s 118-109 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Recreation 1 of the NBA Finals.
His locker regarded properly worn, nonetheless, as a result of that is the place he sat, and paced, as his teammates misplaced the primary recreation of an NBA Finals for the primary time in 5 seasons.
“I do know it is killing him to not be on the market,” Warriors guard Shaun Livingston stated. “He is been very vocal in right here. At halftime he was having a one-on-one speak with Stephen [Curry]. Giving him what he sees, his perspective. After the sport, he was talking up amongst the workforce. He had the ground.”
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That is all Durant has been capable of do since he injured his proper calf greater than three weeks in the past in Golden State’s convention semifinals collection in opposition to the Houston Rockets. Tv cameras have caught him venturing out into the hallways to greet his teammates as they arrive in for halftime or exiting the world. However aside from these uncommon glimpses, Durant has been practically invisible.
The Warriors regarded so good with out him in ending off Houston and rolling over Portland that it turned trendy to speak about how they may win with out him. How in another way they play. The enjoyment was again. Sharing (the ball) was caring, once more. They regarded just like the Warriors of outdated, again when this dynastic run was nonetheless younger and contemporary — and perhaps just like the Warriors’ future, if Durant leaves as a free agent this summer season.
A couple of courageous souls may need even posited that Golden State is likely to be higher with out him and cited the workforce’s 31-1 document (coming into the Finals) when enjoying with Stephen Curry, however with out Durant.
However solely essentially the most unbearable Twitter troll would stand on that floor after Thursday’s recreation. As a result of the Warriors completely have to get Durant again if they are going to win this collection.
Toronto’s protection reminded everybody why Durant has gained the previous two NBA Finals MVP awards. The Raptors are lengthy, athletic and dedicated to disrupting Golden State’s circulation on offense. When groups try this to Golden State, Durant turns into their “Get out of Jail Free” card.
“Folks do not cease him,” Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser stated. “He both misses or makes photographs. However the protection often has little or no to do with it. He is too good.”
Contested FGs*Klay Thompson3-12Stephen Curry3-11Draymond Green0-5*worst % in a recreation this postseason
The protection issues an entire lot when Durant is not on the market, nonetheless.
“I feel they’re really loads like our workforce,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr stated of the Raptors. “They will change and guard totally different positions. They’re powerful, they usually get after you and play properly collectively.”
The Warriors have been reminding anybody who would pay attention how a lot they wanted Durant for the previous three weeks. Nevertheless it was exhausting to listen to that as something however courting their mercurial free-agent-to-be. If Durant was going to be house, listening to on social media how properly the workforce was enjoying with out him (and taking it personally sufficient to get into Twitter debates), he might not less than maintain studying quotes from his teammates and coaches saying how a lot they missed him.
However that concerted attraction offensive wasn’t lip service. Privately, the Warriors had been involved about their possibilities to beat Toronto or Milwaukee within the Finals if Durant wasn’t capable of play. They knew they wanted him as a failsafe on offense and perhaps much more on the defensive finish, given potential matchups with Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo. That want is much more acute with Andre Iguodala battling a calf damage that had him noticeably wincing throughout Recreation 1.
Whereas there’s some optimism Durant performs sooner or later in these Finals, his possibilities to play in Recreation 2 on Sunday appear fairly dim. He solely traveled with the workforce to Toronto to be across the workforce’s medical workers. However he hasn’t practiced but or performed a lot on-court work. His rehabilitation work has largely been upper-body conditioning and a few gentle lower-body work that is not weight bearing.
If this had been the common season, one Warriors supply stated, Durant would in all probability be weeks away from returning to motion, as any such calf damage can simply be reinjured.
However this is not the common season, after all. It is the Finals. Maybe the final Finals this group of Warriors performs in collectively.
Throughout a fourth-quarter timeout with 7:31 remaining and the Warriors down by 12, Kerr lit into his workforce with an expletive-laced message. The Warriors had been on their method to giving up 24 fast-break factors: “For the previous 5 days, the one message we had was, ‘Get again on protection. … That is the f—ing Finals. Get again on protection.'”
Being behind was nothing new for the Warriors. That they had confronted second-half deficits in three video games within the Portland collection. However as dominating as Golden State has been throughout this five-year run, their coach appears conscious that they’ve by no means been extra susceptible.
That is what occurs as a superteam ages, after all. Accidents mount. Key gamers depart. Depth is tougher and tougher to construct because the star gamers are rewarded with more and more lavish contracts. That sense of fragility has hung over the workforce all season. It is really grow to be one thing of a motivator, as those that have lived by way of this run attempt to take pleasure in it so long as doable.
The one factor all of them had been hoping — relying on what Durant decides to do that summer season — was to complete robust. And whereas the Warriors’ mantra has all the time been “power in numbers,” they’ve all the time recognized they’re strongest when Kevin Durant is on the courtroom.