That was when Stephen Curry, the two-time reigning NBA MVP, slipped on a wet spot on the court inside Houston’s Toyota Center, falling, injuring his knee and beginning the Warriors’ circuitous journey through the postseason that ended with them blowing a three-games-to-one lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Curry returned and showed a couple flashes of his usual brilliance, but those were few and far between. And, by extension, the same went for the Warriors.
So, armed with that information, Golden State went into free agency intent on giving itself a cushion if such an incident occurred in the future, chasing Durant to give them four legitimate all-stars – all in the primes of their careers – to build around, and to lean on in the event one of them is missing.
And now, ironically, it is an injury to Durant that will prove how that theory will play out on the court.
“Every team has adversity, though it might not seem like we’ve had much,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said on a conference call Wednesday. “We went through some injuries last year.
“No one’s going to have any sympathy for us, which I understand. It’s professional sports. These things happen.”
The Warriors breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday. Initial fears that Durant was definitely out until sometime during Golden State’s playoff run – or beyond – were slightly allayed by the news that a return during the regular season isn’t being ruled out. Durant is out with a Grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibial bone bruise in his left knee.
Multiple league sources stressed that caution would be applied when it comes to setting Durant’s timetable for returning, and rightly so. After all, this is why the Warriors got Durant in the first place. A team with Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all healthy – alongside valuable role players such as Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia and David West – will be good enough to allow the Warriors to maintain their perch atop the Western Conference standings.
Then there’s the addition of mercurial swingman Matt Barnes, who the Warriors, also according to multiple league sources, will be making their 15th man instead of Jose Calderon, the veteran point guard who had been ticketed to join Golden State before Durant’s injury. Adding another body on the wing only reinforces both the timetable for Durant’s absence and the ability to ease him back on to the court whenever he does return.
“Well, comfortable is the wrong word,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said after Tuesday’s game, but before the MRI results were known, about Golden State’s ability to withstand Durant’s absence for some time. “You’re never comfortable when you lose somebody who is one of the best players in the league.”
When you have four of them, though, it makes losing one of them a little easier to stomach – which is precisely why the Warriors constructed their roster the way they did.
Last year’s playoff run showed that, despite the incredible accomplishments Golden State had with last year’s 73-9 group, it was tough to withstand the absence of stars. Curry’s injuries kept him at less than what he’d been over the prior two years, while Green’s suspension for Game 5 of the NBA Finals opened the door for the Cavaliers to begin their legendary comeback – and set the stage for Golden State’s epic collapse.
The truth now is that, because of the depth Golden State has around Durant, the earliest he actually needs to be fully ready to play would be in their second-round series, presumably against the Los Angeles Clippers. Given that that series wouldn’t start until around May 1, Durant would have a full two months – presuming the Warriors are as cautious as they say they will be – to get himself back to peak condition and ready to go.
Curry, on the other hand, came back from a Grade 1 (meaning lesser) strain in two weeks during last year’s playoffs, and the difference was noticeable.
It’s why the Warriors were so strident about chasing Durant, about getting another star to go with the trio of them already on the roster. Over the course of a more-than-100-game run to the NBA Finals, things happen. Last year, it was Curry slipping on a wet spot on the court. This year, it is Wizards center Marcin Gortat getting tangled up with Pachulia and pulling him into the ground, where he then rolled into Durant’s leg.
The difference is that, this time, the Warriors have the depth in star power to absorb such a blow. And while it will be Durant who is spending the next several weeks on the sidelines, it was by pursuing him in the first place that Golden State allows itself to deal with his absence.