TORONTO — Tired, wounded and facing a daunting 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors are in desperate need of a boost. Needless to say, Kevin Durant’s long-anticipated return would fit the bill.
Durant, who has not played since straining his calf May 8, will be a game-time decision for Monday night’s Game 5 against the Toronto Raptors in Scotiabank Arena, Coach Steve Kerr said. Both ESPN and NBC Sports Bay Area reported that Durant was expected to play Monday night.
Durant has missed the last nine playoff games and, in his absence, Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors seized command of the series by winning Games 3 and 4 on the road.
“He went through full shoot-around and went back to get treatment,” Kerr said, via the Associated Press. “We’ll list him [as a] game-time decision, but it looked good and we’ll see where it all goes.”
Durant did not speak to reporters.
Word of Durant’s progress comes after days filled with murky updates about his health and reports that the Warriors were growing frustrated by his continued absence. As Durant’s return timetable seemed to shift between Games 3 and 4, Kerr said that Durant hadn’t suffered a setback but added that the team would be more tight-lipped about its injury updates to prevent mixed signals.
Kerr said that while conditioning would be a concern, Durant’s basketball abilities would not be.
“He’s been in similar situations with us where he’s had long layoffs,” Kerr said. “He’s Kevin Durant. If we have him out there, he’ll be a threat. We know that.”
Durant, who has been around the Warriors and has traveled with them throughout the Finals, has not addressed the media during the series and did not take questions Sunday. In the vacuum created by his silence, Durant’s status as a pending free agent and months of rumors about a possible offseason departure led outsiders to speculate about his motivations.
Before Game 4, he posted a cryptic message to his Instagram account. “False information doesn’t become true just because it’s repeated,” it read.
There’s no question the two-time Finals MVP would be of great use, even if he’s limited. Golden State’s rhythm and confidence have been hampered by injuries, with Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala playing through various ailments. Stephen Curry began to show signs of exhaustion during Game 4 as the Warriors scored just 92 points, their fewest of the postseason, and struggled to contain Leonard, who notched 36 points.
“We made a lot of defensive mistakes that seemed born from the frustration and maybe fatigue,” Kerr said. “We’re playing guys heavy minutes and all that stuff. That’s why I’m pleased that there will be two [off] days before [Game 5] and the next couple after that, if we can keep extending the series. As we get healthier and have some time to heal and rest, I like our chances.”
Durant is averaging 34.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists in the playoffs, and he was sensational in the Warriors’ opening-round victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. The 2014 MVP seemed poised to stake his claim as the best player in basketball, only to suffer a noncontact leg injury during Game 5 of a second-round series against the Houston Rockets.
A Durant return would ease Curry’s burden, rebalance Golden State’s offense, give Kerr an isolation scoring threat to help unlock Toronto’s defense and provide a long defensive option against Leonard or Pascal Siakam. On an even more basic level, Durant also would help fill minutes. Kerr has had to rely on backup forwards Alfonzo McKinnie and Jonas Jerebko, who have been badly overmatched against the Raptors.
“It’s just having another powerful weapon out there that can do some very dynamic things on the floor,” Curry said. “He’s been in plenty of Finals and has played well. No matter what percentage he’s at, I’m sure he’ll be impactful and effective.”
The Warriors are seeking to join the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers as the only teams in NBA history to win a title after facing a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. Of course, it was the Warriors who sacrificed that 3-1 lead three years ago. That same year, they dug out of a 3-1 hole against Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder to win the Western Conference finals.
While Toronto has been the healthier, steadier and more impressive team throughout this series, Thompson allowed himself to dream about the possibility of a Durant-led comeback.
“I feel for Kevin,” Thompson said. “I know what type of competitor he is. We obviously miss him out there, and he’s propelled us to two championships in the last two years. It would be pretty storybook if he could come back and help us do the same.”