OAKLAND, Calif. – As an injured Kevin Durant walked out of Oracle Arena without a limp on Wednesday night, he offered hope to Golden State Warriors fans desperate for good news.
“We will know more in the morning,” Durant told The Undefeated about his availability in the NBA Finals following the Warriors’ 123-109 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 3.
Durant had been the NBA’s best player earlier in the postseason, averaging 34.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1 block per game in the playoffs. The two-time Finals MVP appeared unstoppable. Until he suffered a right calf strain on May 8 against the Houston Rockets in the second round.
Durant has missed seven straight games since then. Making matters worse for the Warriors: Klay Thompson missed Game 3 with a strained hamstring, DeMarcus Cousins struggled in his third game back after missing 14 games with a quad injury and Kevon Looney is out for the season with a collarbone injury suffered in Game 2.
The wounded Warriors, down 2-1, are now in “must-win” mode heading into Friday’s Game 4 in what could be the last contest in the beloved Oracle Arena.
“The moment is now,” Curry said after scoring 47 points in the Game 3 loss. “You got to try to have a ‘next man up’ mentality, like we always say, and just go out and fight. We did that tonight. We can play better, obviously better on the defensive end. But I liked the competitiveness that we had, understanding we’re missing 50 points between KD and Klay.”
In nearly a month’s span, Durant has gone from the star role in the playoffs to making cameos in the Finals, giving dap to teammates in the hallway and wearing a baseball cap instead of his No. 35 jersey. The 6-foot-9 forward watched Game 3 uncomfortably from behind a door near the Warriors’ locker room with a small red sign that read: “OFFICE.” The inconspicuous room is Warriors general manager Bob Myers’ arena office, which includes two large leather chairs with leather foot rests, a large flatscreen television hanging on the wall and a live game clock atop it.
Myers joined an extremely frustrated Durant in the room in the fourth quarter as they watched the Warriors struggle.
“It’s [expletive] killing him. Killing him,” a Warriors employee said of Durant.
Still, teammate Quinn Cook said, Durant has been making a strong impact with his leadership.
“He’s been a great, great leader and motivated everybody by talking a lot,” Cook told The Undefeated. “Ever since he’s been out, he’s been great. But over these past three games, he’s been the best leader you could ask for.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr hopes Thompson will play in Game 4 with a “couple more days to heal.” He also hopes Durant will finally come back to action in Game 4 and said KD had positive workouts on Tuesday and Wednesday. Durant appears in need of a strong workout on Thursday to get clearance to return to action in Game 4.
The Warriors are not expected to scrimmage as a team during a light practice and film session on Thursday. But Kerr said Durant is expected to take part in the “next step” on Thursday by scrimmaging with some of the Warriors’ young players and coaches.
“We got to continue to improve and not have any setbacks,” Kerr said.
Remember that shaky argument that the Warriors might be better without Durant after knocking off the Rockets and sweeping the Blazers?
“We’re definitely way, way better with him,” Cook said.
With cool hand Kawhi Leonard leading the way, the Raptors are certainly capable of winning their first championship. Undoubtedly, they are starting to smell blood.
“Anytime you’re making it to the Finals, you’re playing against a great team. So, it is going to always be challenging,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said.
But a return of Durant in the middle of the Finals could also be superchallenging for the defensive-minded Raptors if he is close to his stellar self.
Will Durant have a Willis Reed moment, inspiring the Warriors to a title as Reed did for the New York Knicks in 1970?
“I don’t know nothing about when he is coming back. I ain’t heard nothing. We don’t make excuses. You have to play regardless to who is on the floor,” Cousins said.
When one of Durant’s friends was asked if Durant would wear a superhero cape in Game 4, he responded, “He needs a calf. Not a cape.”