Two things became more apparent than ever during Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night: Underestimate the Toronto Raptors at your own peril, and while Stephen Curry put on an amazing show, the Golden State Warriors really could use Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in their bid to three-peat as champions.
The Warriors apparently will get one but not both of those injured stars back for Game 4.
Coach Steve Kerr told reporters Thursday that Durant will not play Friday night but that Thompson “will plan on playing” and that “we expect him to play, barring something unforeseen. He’s continued to improve, and that’s good news.”
Durant, Kerr said, “will continue to get treatment and get on the court and continue to work, but [he] will be unavailable for Game 4.”
Without Durant, who has not played since he strained his calf May 8 during the Western Conference semifinals, the Warriors were outgunned on their home floor, 123-109, falling behind 2-1 in the series despite Curry’s 47-point performance.
Still, the Warriors should be buoyed by the return of Thompson, who hurt his hamstring in Game 2. And there’s genuine optimism, at least in the owners’ suite, that Durant will be available before the series ends. Although Charles Barkley believes Durant’s season is finished, Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith that he is certain Durant will return. Extremely certain. Painfully certain.
“Not tonight,” he said before Game 3, “but I do [expect that]. . . . I’m serious as a heart attack.”
Maybe he was just bluffing. Certainly Kerr has been more circumspect, preferring to take matters day by day. The plan for Durant is to increase his work each day and take part in three-on-three drills, Kerr said. But the two-time Finals MVP isn’t yet ready to progress to scrimmage with his teammates, a necessary step in his possible return.
“He’s been doing individual work on the court, he’s been in the training room, in the weight room,” Kerr said Thursday. “He’s been doing lots of different things. The training staff said he’s not ready to play in a game yet, so that’s all.”
Thompson had been rebuffed in his push to play in Game 3.
“The whole point was to not risk a bigger injury that would keep him out of the rest of the series,” Kerr said Wednesday of his decision to keep Thompson on the bench for Game 3. “I never would have forgiven myself if I played him tonight and he had gotten hurt. You make a wise decision, the wisest one you can, and then you live with it and move forward.”
So Kerr was playing for time Wednesday, particularly with Thompson, hoping to have most of his lineup intact for a shorter three-or four-game run to another title. As Curry pointed out, Durant and Thompson are good for 50 points when they’re in the lineup.
“I think wisdom prevailed in terms of this is a potentially seven-game series,” Curry said. “You would like to take advantage of tonight, but his overall health is important in terms of not taking away the rest of the series with something catastrophic happening.”
Draymond Green has it all mapped out. “We’ve just got to continue to battle and win the next game,” he said. “Go back to Toronto, win Game 5. Come back to Oracle [Arena], win Game 6 and then celebrate. Fun times ahead.”
Thompson’s ability as a perimeter defender, Green added, would be crucial to Golden State’s effort to regain control in the series.
“Having Klay back is important,” he said. “We still scored, what, 109 points last night? That’s enough points to win. We have won with 109. We have got to get stops, and I think adding Klay back to the fold is always going to make a difference. The way Klay pressures the ball, the way he flies around on the defensive end. That makes a big difference.”
Ben Golliver in Oakland, Calif., contributed to this report.
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