TORONTO – Bob Myers fought back the tears, until he could choke them back no more. The Warriors had just won, but in that moment, everything felt lost. Golden State’s season would continue after Monday’s thrilling 106-105 Game 5 win. Kevin Durant’s was over.
It’s an Achilles injury for Durant, with an MRI scheduled for Tuesday to determine the severity. Out since May 8 with a right calf injury, Durant returned in Game 5, with the Warriors’ season on the line. He looked sharp early, racking up 11 first-quarter points. In the second quarter, Durant collected a pass on the right wing. He sized up Serge Ibaka, his former Oklahoma City teammate. He crossed over, planted his right foot, and that was it. Replays showed Durant’s muscle rippling up his leg.
Durant fell to the floor. He motioned to the Warriors trainer. The crowd roared, ignorant perhaps of the severity of Durant’s injury, until several Raptors players motioned for them to stop. Durant limped to the locker room, his left arm around Andre Iguodala, his right around Rick Celebrini, Golden State’s Director of Sports Medicine and Performance, with Curry and Myers following closely behind.
“Something just told me to go back there,” Curry said.
“I’m just devastated for Kevin,” added Steve Kerr.
Said Klay Thompson, “Really, it sucks.”
So many questions, and as Myers addressed the media, he knew what was coming. Should Durant have even been playing? Myers called the decision to activate Durant “a collaborative effort.” He said Durant was medically cleared to play. “We felt good about the process,” Myers said. He said he didn’t think anyone was to blame for Durant’s injury but “if you have to, you can blame me.”
“I run our basketball operations department,” Myers said. “The people that worked with him and cleared him are good people. They’re good people.”
In a brief back-and-forth with reporters, Myers acknowledged the outside noise about the severity of Durant’s injury. Golden State bungled the original diagnosis, officially a calf strain, while allowing the initial reporting that it was “mild” to just hang out there. On Monday, Kerr admitted he was initially informed that Durant’s recovery time could be measured in months, not weeks.
That ambiguity created frustration, with sources purportedly close to the Warriors venting to different outlets. The Athletic reported Durant’s continued absence caused “a mixture of confusion and angst” amongst several of Durant’s teammates, reporting that Myers pointedly addressed.
“Kevin Durant wants to play basketball,” Myers said. “The people that questioned whether he wanted to get back to this team were wrong.”
Perhaps, but did the outside noise influence the Warriors' decision to allow Durant to play? Celebrini and the medical staff made the call, but did the public flogging Durant was taking make it tougher to hold him out? Myers insisted the initial diagnosis was a calf injury, with nothing to do with the Achilles but admitted “I don’t know how those are related or not.”
The Warriors celebrated on the floor when Draymond Green deflected Kyle Lowry’s game-winning three-point attempt. Stephen Curry hopped up and down in front of Drake, his back turned to the hip hop star and Raptors super fan. Green—who has had some heated exchanges with Drake—shared a few words with him, too. But the celebration ended in the locker room, where the reality of Durant’s injury washed over them.
“Everybody gets so wrapped up in chasing championships and the greatness that you see on the floor, but life is more important in terms of caring about an individual and what they're going through on a daily basis,” Curry said. “And you see the commitment and the challenges and just what's been thrown at KD this whole year, really. And he gave us what he had, he went out there and sacrificed his body, and we know how it turned out.”
“So a part of our mentality and the experiences, the shared experiences we have as a team and what we have all been through, that's way more important than anything that happens out there or long-term anything that happens on the court. I just feel so bad for him, to be honest, like that's nobody should have to go through something like that, especially with this stage that we have.”
Said Andre Iguodala, “It goes so much further than basketball. I always say that. It might sound cliché or sound so simple, but it’s so much deeper than playing basketball for money and all that goes into the machine. We’re really in a fantasy world and it takes away from you having feelings or expressing yourself as far as being a human being. It’s simple to me.”
Down the hall, the championship celebration plans scuttled, the Raptors contemplated a return trip to Oakland. But their minds wandered to Durant, too. Lowry was especially shook after Durant’s injury, Nick Nurse revealed, with Curry and Thompson both speaking to him after halftime.
“In this league, it’s a small brotherhood,” Lowry said. “We don’t ever want to see any of our fellow brothers go down.”
Kawhi Leonard saw his run at a second Finals MVP stalled, a storybook ending to an improbable dream season on hold, but when asked about Durant, his mind drifted to last season, when he battled a significant injury of his own, when he didn’t know if his career would ever be the same.
“It’s devastating,” Leonard said. “I've been in that situation before. I hope he has a speedy recovery, and just gets healthy and I hope that he's going to be OK mentally, just throughout the whole rehab process. We work so hard to either play in the Finals or just play in the NBA, and when you're not playing, it's hard to wrap your mind around it. But I'm pretty sure he's going to attack each day and get better and come back strong.”
Golden State came back strong after back-to-back losses in the Bay Area, and the Warriors survived a Leonard outburst in the fourth quarter to push this series to a sixth game. For now, Durant’s injury will be a rallying cry. “We do it for Kevin,” Thompson said. There will be many more questions, for Myers, for Kerr, for the medical staff, questions that will linger deep into a summer that suddenly became more complicated. In the locker room, Kerr told his team he was proud of them, before the emotions overwhelmed him, too.
“It’s a bizarre feeling that we all have right now,” Kerr said. “An incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time.”