Anyone want to step up and say how Golden State is better without Kevin Durant now?
What was always a ridiculous, worst-of-sports-talk-radio talking point was exposed in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, when it was painfully obvious how much the Warriors missed Durant during their Game 1 loss to the Toronto Raptors. The Warriors are still impressive without Durant and in certain matchups — read: Portland — can look dominant.
However, the Warriors need Durant against the Raptors the same way they needed him in 2016 when they lost to the Cavaliers. The Warriors went 8-1 in Finals games with Durant, but are 0-1 without him (and they have lost their last four Finals games without him if you go back to the 2016 Finals before KD arrived in the Bay Area). Toronto has the length and athleticism to make Golden State work hard in the halfcourt and take away those patented Warriors runs, and Golden State could not turn to the “get out of jail free” card in those situations that Durant has become for them. When nothing else is working, Durant is the walking mismatch who can just go get them efficient buckets.
Golden State needed that halfcourt shot creator in Game 1. He would force Toronto to put Kawhi Leonard on him, which in the least would make things easier for the rest of the Warriors.
When will Durant return to the court from the calf strain he suffered in Game 5 against Houston?
That remains the big question of this series, the one that could shift the balance of power. And the only answer we have is probably not for Game 2. Coach Steve Kerr described Durant as a “long shot” for Sunday’s game in Toronto.
“His next step is individual court work, so that will be the next priority over the next couple of days,” Kerr said at media day. “Hopefully he can wrap that up, and then he’s going to have to practice. We have to see him in practice before he can play a game, and he hasn’t practiced yet.”
Durant was seen working on the court by himself at the Warriors practice Wednesday and shootaround Thursday. Long shot or not, he could practice in the days off before Game 2, but the Warriors may not feel pressured to get him on the court that quickly.
If the Warriors drop Game 2 on Sunday, the pressure will mount to play Durant in Game 3 back at Oracle Arena.
This is a calf strain, the questions become about pain and freedom of movement for Durant. There is a risk of reaggravation, but if that happens, it’s still something that can heal over the summer and is not a danger to his career. Also, no team — from the Warriors to the Knicks — is going to decide not to offer Durant a max contract next summer because of a calf strain reaggravation. The question is simply, “can he play?”
If the Warriors adjust and win Game 2, it could be a game or two later before we see Durant.
Toronto has shown it likely will take Durant in uniform to beat them this series. Game 1 was like the Durant Bat Signal into the sky, the only question now is if and when Durant can respond.