Though his Golden State Warriors are favored to win their second NBA championship in three years, coach Steve Kerr knows better than to roll with the numbers.
Generally, if you gamble, you lose.
So, until further notice, Kevin Durant is listed as questionable, which means there is a very strong likelihood that he will be on the bench, in street clothes, watching Game 2 of the Warriors-Blazers series Wednesday at Oracle Arena.
This is no time to play games. The Warriors’ offseason prize – the free agent signing that crippled the Oklahoma City Thunder and transformed Golden State into this generation’s version of a super team – missed a month of the regular season with a sprained left knee, returned for three games during the final week and sprained his left calf during the second half of Sunday’s postseason opener.
Left knee. Left calf. Those body parts are simply too close for comfort, certainly close enough to warrant caution.
“If he didn’t practice, there’s concern,” Kerr acknowledged while Durant remained in the training room Tuesday with ailing teammates Matt Barnes and Kevon Looney. “I didn’t even hear about it until after the game. I’m not sure if he felt it (pain) during the game or after. You’ve got to be careful with this stuff. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
The slinky Durant appeared fine during most of the series opener and dismissive of any lingering health issues afterward. He grabbed 10 rebounds and scored a team-high 32 points, gliding to the basket and pulling up for jumpers with his characteristic ease. The only hint of trouble occurred when he reached down and grabbed his calf in the second half, then went to the bench and summoned the team’s trainer. With his left ankle encased in a bag of ice, Chelsea Lane examined his left knee as the two engaged in a brief conversation.
Later, Durant insisted that he “physically felt great. I knocked down some shots. I didn’t worry about not playing 20 games in the regular season. I just tried to go out there and be me.”
The real Kevin Durant, of course, is the rangy 6-foot-9, 240-pound veteran who is widely regarded as the league’s most dynamic scorer. In 62 starts since signing as a free agent with the Warriors, he averaged 25.1 points, a career-high 8.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals and a career-high 1.6 blocks, pleasantly surprising his coaches and teammates with his rim protection.
His expanding list of career accolades also includes his selection as Most Valuable Player (2013-14), an eight-time All-Star, four-time scoring champion and Rookie of the Year (2007-08) – the latter award soothing the sting of being drafted No. 2 overall after Greg Oden, the once-coveted center who retired prematurely because of recurring knee injuries.
The mere mention of Oden continues to thrusts a cautionary note into any discussion about the medical history of the league’s big men, and the large number of those who were hampered by bad knees and/or feet.
While Kerr responded quickly and affirmatively Monday when asked if he anticipated his small forward’s return during the first-round series, he is acutely aware that one player’s injury can doom an entire team’s postseason. Last year’s NBA Finals result – Cleveland 4, Golden State 3 – still has many of the Warriors folks reaching for the antacids.
The raucous Oracle Arena crowd was all prepped for a grand Game 7 finale that instead ended in a flop. In the year BD (Before Durant), the Warriors overcame Andrew Bogut’s chronic injury issues and Kerr’s prolonged illness and sprinted past the Chicago Bulls’ record, claiming 73 wins. They ranked at the top in offensive and defensive efficiency and seemed poised, even destined, to achieve the NBA’s elusive double-dip: consecutive championships.
But then Stephen Curry slipped on a wet spot in Game 3 against the Houston Rockets, sat out six games with sprained knee ligaments and, upon his return, never recaptured his MVP-caliber brilliance. He knew it, his coaches knew it, his teammates knew it, the Cavaliers knew it. Never was it more obvious than during the Warriors’ critical late possession in Game 7, with Curry dribbling the ball on the right side, probing, testing, trying but failing to gain separation and a clean look against Kevin Love, a weak defender.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” said Curry, who declined an invitation last summer to play on the 2016 Olympic team so he could recover from his injuries. “When certain guys are out, it all starts out with what we do defensively. We have to pick it up on that end. We got through a month without him (Durant). It’s not just talk. We learned how to do it by committee, were shorthanded and still able to win games. We have to be ready for anything.”