Kevin Durant remains questionable for Game 2 of the Golden State Warriors’ first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night with a left calf strain, but all indications are that the Warriors are going to be cautious and judicious with the health of the superstar forward, with a strong possibility of him sitting out of the game.
There’s no reason for Golden State to act any differently.
The Warriors should be able to easily handle the Trail Blazers at home without Durant — especially considering Portland’s starting center, Jusuf Nurkic, remains out with his own leg injury. Remember: Golden State rattled off its longest winning streak of the season, 14 games, almost exclusively without Durant in March and early April, including winning three games in four nights, against the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets twice, in late March.
During that stretch, Stephen Curry was back to playing the way he was last season en route to becoming the first unanimous MVP in NBA history, while the Warriors fell into a groove like they have rarely been in at any point this season. There’s no reason to think Golden State can’t pick up where it left off a couple of weeks ago and have the NBA’s best back court of Curry and Klay Thompson, not to mention the league’s likely Defensive Player of the Year in Draymond Green, hold the fort in Durant’s absence. A victory would put Golden State up two games to none in this best-of-seven series.
Curry’s recent play should also remind the Warriors of something else: the potential pitfalls of having a player come back from injury before being totally ready. After spraining his ankle in the opening game of the 2016 playoffs, Curry sat out Games 2 and 3 against the Rockets, before returning after James Harden’s last-second shot in Game 3 cut the Warriors series lead to 2-1. No one will ever know if Curry’s ankle was partly why he injured his MCL when he slipped on a wet spot on the court at halftime of Game 4, but he wound up missing the next few games and never looked quite right again during the playoffs — despite a couple of spectacular performance on Golden State’s way to collapsing against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals.
It was Durant’s left leg, remember, that Zaza Pachulia crashed into after getting tangled up with Marcin Gortat on Feb. 29 at Verizon Center, causing Durant to suffer a Grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibial bone bruise. Maybe it’s a coincidence that Durant has a calf strain in the same leg, maybe not. But there’s little reason at this point, with 15 more wins needed to claim the championship he and the Warriors know will be the only acceptable result this season, to push things at all.
Durant has always been someone who pretends injuries don’t exist, and there’s little doubt he’ll do whatever he can to convince Warriors management he will be ready to go Wednesday night. But if there’s any doubt at all about his status, or the potential for making things worse, Golden State has only one choice to make: keep Durant in a suit on the bench, and tell him his teammates will take care of things until he’s right.
The playoffs are a marathon, not a sprint. Golden State doesn’t want to lose Durant in the opening mile of the race.