Klay Thompson, after missing only one game due to a hamstring injury, played great in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Kevon Looney returned after missing only one game with a shoulder injury originally thought to be season-ending and gave the Warriors good minutes. DeMarcus Cousins struggled, but at least he was out there after rushing through recovery from his own believed-to-be-season-ending quad injury.
Kevin Durant missed his ninth straight playoff game.
Sources say there was a very real hope that Durant would be able to play in Game 4, to push through in much the same way that Thompson, Cousins, Iguodala and Looney have done of late. When that didn’t happen, and when they saw their season compromised more than ever without him after they’d grown hopeful of his return after seeing him on the court, the irritation grew in large part because they simply didn’t understand why he wasn’t there.
Warriors officials aren’t running from the reality that there’s frustration among some players, but they’re also quick to point out that trainer Rick Celebrini – not Durant – is making this call.
What’s more, two sources insist that the Warriors have believed for quite some time that Game 5 was the earliest time in which he would likely return.
There’s a problem here.
On the drastic and unlikely side, maybe Durant is malingering. His impending free agency certainly doesn’t help perception. It invites questions about his motives – whether he’s fully committed to fighting through injury for a team he could leave in a few weeks.
That’s all probably unfair. Durant is a competitor. He deserves benefit of the doubt. A neutral observer, Jalen Rose, said Durant’s recent workout went poorly.*
*To be fair, that speaks only to Durant’s readiness to play. It’s far more difficult to assess how hard he has attacked his recovery.
Most likely, this is a problem of communication. The Warriors already admitted the injury was more severe than they initially thought. Even after that, a report emerged Durant was expected to return in Game 3 or 4 of the Finals. If they believed Game 5 was his earliest likely return, the Warriors should have gotten out ahead of that. The actual information flow sets up everyone to feel disappointed when Durant missed yet another game.
There’s a very fine line between being frustrated with Durant and frustrated with the situation. I’m not sure where the Warriors fall.
But this team looks deflated. It has been a long five years, and this Durant saga has been exhausting.
Maybe Durant returns in Game 5 and jolts Golden State.
More likely, down 3-1 to the Raptors and with Durant still not announced as cleared, it’s already too late.