Moore: The Brutal Truth of What Kevin Durant’s Injury Likely Means for the NBA Finals

Moore: The Brutal Truth of What Kevin Durant’s Injury Likely Means for the NBA Finals article feature image
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Photo credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kevin Durant

  • Kevin Durant made his 2019 NBA Finals debut Monday night but went down with an Achilles injury in the second quarter.
  • Matt Moore (@HPBasketball) discusses what it means for Game 6 and beyond for the Warriors.

These NBA Finals have been dramatic, wild, unexpected at every turn, difficult to project and, ultimately, unsatisfying.

That trend continued Monday as the Warriors somehow won Game 5 to force a Game 6 vs. the Toronto Raptors. It should have been a joyous moment for a franchise that has found a way so many times. But all of it was overshadowed by Kevin Durant’s Achilles injury.

So now we head to Game 6 not focused on adjustments or variance. We’re not focused on how to normalize performances and project out. We’re trying to wrestle with the fallout from arguably the best player in the world suffering the one injury that still ruins careers. We’re trying to forecast the emotional response of a team that was at the brink, somehow fought its way off it and suffered a gutting loss that alters everything about their team.

Durant’s injury throws a gigantic piece of debris right into this series, which remains teetering on the edge. There’s just carnage all around. The Raptors lost this game largely because their offense finally fell apart. The Raptors have had a disposition towards the random “can’t buy a bucket” game all year, and it finally caught them at the worst time, as they shot 8-of-32 from 3-point range.

In this series, more than most, the Raptors’ buckets create a downhill effect. It allows them to set their defense, which helps with maintaining the matchups they want and need. So a normalized 3-point performance from the Raptors likely ends this series in Game 6, as unlikely as a road win in the last ever game at Oracle may seem.

Bear in mind that the Raptors won the fourth quarter of Game 5 and tied in the second and third. They only lost the first … in which Durant played 9 minutes, 43 seconds, scoring 11 points and was a +8.

So, again, the trends are not good here for the Warriors. They won Game 2 on a strange night where Steph Curry didn’t play well. They’re now without Durant, and that’s going to leave an emotional hangover. Kevon Looney re-aggravated his chest injury. Andre Iguodala has been borderline unplayable at points. Draymond Green had a good game in Game 5 and was still a -2, scoring only 10 points. The Warriors even got 14 points from DeMarcus Cousins, but the more he’s on the floor, the more of a liability he becomes.

All of this is to say that we are largely where we were going into Game 4: no Durant, a banged-up Warriors team and, no matter what, the last game at Oracle Arena. That could have been Game 4, and the Raptors still won. We have enough evidence now across enough lineups and games to say the Raptors are better and capable of beating Golden State … without Durant.

Which makes this all the more gutting — that the Warriors really did have a chance to pull off another 3-1 comeback on the biggest stage with Durant.

Durant’s injury is a loss for all of basketball; I had honestly forgotten in the day-to-day playoff stress how much I missed watching him play basketball. He’s the best player on the planet in my eyes, and seeing him knock down those huge shots to rattle the Raptors’ home crowd was electric. Now he’s gone, and it throws into disarray his free agency and the future of his career.

The list of players who were never the same after an Achilles rupture is the same as the list of players who suffered such an injury. Durant is not any other player; he’s singularly, historically great, and I have hope he can return to that. But for now, he’s facing likely surgery, months and months of rehab and a lost year of his basketball life — the thing he loves most.

The Warriors were super emotional after Game 5, from Curry to Klay Thompson to Steve Kerr. This hit them hard. Oftentimes great athletes rise to that challenge, and that’s what makes their stories such legends.

However, the reality is that the basketball side of this has tilted significantly in the Raptors’ direction, and they are 3.5-point underdogs at the time of this writing vs. a team they just beat twice in Oracle and lost by a single point to in Game 5.

The Raptors should be favored and win Game 6. But nothing has happened the way it was supposed to in this series, and so bettors will have to decide between the narrative maelstrom that may sink or fuel the Warriors on Thursday, or the rational calculus that suggests that — this time — the Warriors will not have the answer they’ve always seemed to find.

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