Kevin Durant finally trekked to the court with his teammates the other day. In the intervening month since he was sidelined late in Game Five of the Golden State Warriors’ semifinal-round series due to a right calf strain, he had seen them crest with defining performances to earn a fifth straight attempt at claiming the Larry O’Brien Trophy. In dispatching the Rockets and Blazers en route, they appeared to show they would do just fine without him. Against the Toronto Raptors, though, their supposed progress in his absence proved to be fool’s gold. And, with a lone win to their name after four matches in the Finals, they found themselves needing his services simply to survive. Needless to say, his presence in their short practice on the eve of Game Five was a decidedly welcome one.
As things turned out, Durant didn’t — or, perhaps, couldn’t — burn rubber on the floor for long yesterday. Whether his condition remained as bad as it was when the Warriors checked him out prior to Game Four remains to be seen, but it bears noting that they listed his status as “questionable” for today’s do-or-die set-to. That they continue to see how he is in any case reflects their desperation; were they still in the regular season, they wouldn’t have bothered to keep testing the extent of his convalescence from an injury that needs time to heal.
To be sure, a hobbled Durant is still considerably better than any other Warrior not named Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, or Draymond Green at a hundred per cent. As his impressive body of work underscores, he possesses a unique combination of length and touch that makes scoring easy for him even at less than full strength. At the same time, his superstar-level instincts and athleticism make him a decided upgrade on the other end of the floor and, concomitantly, allow them to pander to their small-ball predilections.
That said, the Warriors know better than to bank on Durant’s return for Game Five. Even as they acknowledged his importance to the cause in pressers yesterday, they pledged to prepare with the worst-case scenario in mind. And for all the noise about his supposed refusal to push himself — and thereby risk further injury — in the face of his impending free agency, they know he’s a competitor who can’t wait to don his jersey the moment he gets clearance. At the very least, he understands the opportunity circumstances have presented him with; he may have been named Finals Most Valuable Player in 2017 and 2018, but the narrative that he joined Curry & Company just to chase title rings festers in light of their evident completeness prior to his arrival and during his forced sidelining heading into their date with the Raptors.
The notion that Durant’s absence has changed the complexion of the Finals is, of course, unfair to all and sundry. Neither should it change the Warriors’ legacy as a modern-era dynasty. They can do no better than play with the cards they’re dealt. He’s an all-time great, and they’re all-time greats — separately or together. And if they ultimately fail to defend the championship, it won’t be because they’re incomplete.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.