OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant’s valiant comeback to the NBA Finals has officially ended in nightmare fashion.
The Golden State Warriors superstar announced on Instagram on Wednesday that he underwent successful surgery to repair a ruptured right Achilles’ tendon, suffered during a Game 5 win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday.
A timetable for his recovery was not immediately known, but the injury typically carries a 12-month recovery timeline and requires a grueling rehabilitation. The Warriors confirmed the news in a statement.
“My road back starts now,” Durant wrote, alongside a photograph of him in a hospital bed. “I got my family and my loved ones by my side and we truly appreciate all the messages and support people have sent our way. Its just the way things go in this game and I’m proud that I gave it all I physically could. It’s going to be a journey but I’m built for this.”
The 10-time all-star forward returned to the court for Game 5, his first action in more than a month after suffering a right calf strain during the second round of the playoffs, in the hopes of helping Golden State, which trailed 3-1 in the series, stave off elimination. Durant departed, well before halftime, with a serious injury known for altering careers and robbing professional athletes of their explosiveness.
The injury came without contact, and it immediately sent him to the court in pain and disbelief. Early in the second quarter, the Maryland native attempted to drive past Raptors forward Serge Ibaka — only to drop to the court after his right leg gave way. Durant needed to be assisted to the locker room by his teammates and he departed the arena early on crutches, finishing with 11 points and two rebounds in 12 minutes.
“I’m hurting deeply, but I’m OK,” Durant wrote. “Basketball is my biggest love and I wanted to be out there that night because that’s what I do. I wanted to help my teammates on our quest for the three-peat.”
The devastating injury struck Durant in his athletic prime at age 30. Often, athletes don’t return to full form after an Achilles’ tear until the second season following the injury, and in some cases, they never recover their full quickness and agility. Given the timing of Durant’s injury, which was confirmed by an MRI exam taken Tuesday, it’s possible he will miss the entire 2019-20 season.
Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins returned in January after missing roughly a year with an Achilles’ tear, only to look like a shell of himself. Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles’ in 2013 at age 34, played just six games the following season and never returned to full form. San Antonio Spurs forward Rudy Gay, however, has enjoyed a successful second act since tearing his Achilles’ in 2017.
The decision to return to the court Monday came after days of intense speculation regarding Durant’s mind-set. Reports surfaced that some members of the Warriors, dealing with numerous injuries to key players and facing elimination against the Raptors, were growing frustrated that he hadn’t completed his comeback. After it initially seemed as if he might return for Game 4 on Friday, the Warriors strangely reversed course without a clear explanation of the events and without Durant making any public statement.
Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday that the decision to finally greenlight the Game 5 return was a “collaborative” one that included Durant; his agent, Rich Kleiman; the team’s medical staff; and an outside medical expert who provided a second opinion.
“Would we go back and do it over again? Damn right,” Kerr said. “That’s easy to say after the results. Our feeling was the worst thing that could happen would be a reinjure of the calf. That was the advice and the information that we had. At that point, once Kevin was cleared to play, he was comfortable with that. We were comfortable with that. So the Achilles’ came as a complete shock. Had we known that this was a possibility, that this was even in the realm of possibility, there’s no way we ever would have allowed Kevin to come back.”
Before the injury, Durant appeared loose and played effectively. He danced during pregame warmups, swished his first two three-pointers and covered ground well. But his unfortunate turn of events became a nightmare scenario, given the pressure to perform, the stage of the NBA Finals and the severity of his injury.
Warriors General Manager Bob Myers was reduced to tears after Game 5, accepting blame for Durant’s Achilles’ injury and noting that it was separate from his original calf injury.
“I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame,” he said. “But if you have to, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations department. Kevin Durant loves to play basketball, and the people that questioned whether he wanted to get back to this team were wrong. He’s one of the most misunderstood people. He’s a good teammate. He’s a good person. It’s not fair. I’m lucky to know him.”
This is just the second major injury of Durant’s 12-year career. In 2014-15, he missed 45 games with a right foot fracture that required three surgeries over a six-month period. Durant rebounded well, returning to all-star form the next season and emerging as the most coveted free agent by 2016, when he stunned the league by leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Warriors. His arrival gave Golden State, which had won a record 73 games the previous season, arguably the greatest collection of talent in NBA history.
Durant, regarded as one of the greatest all-around offensive players in NBA history, led the Warriors to the past two NBA titles and won Finals MVP honors in both 2016 and 2017. The four-time scoring champ averaged 26 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, earning all-NBA second team honors and ranking eighth in jersey sales.
The chase to sign Durant, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, has been a leading NBA subplot all season. Per league rules, Golden State can pay him more than $220 million over five years, while other suitors can offer four years at more than $160 million.
The Warriors, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers are among his top suitors, and all three probably will remain interested despite the severity of his injury. People in the league familiar with the situation indicated Tuesday that multiple teams continue to view Durant as worthy of a max contract.
Durant has a $31.5 million player option for next season with Golden State should he elect to forgo free agency this summer.