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OAKLAND, Calif — Just like you’ve seen countless times before, Kevin Durant from the baseline. One dribble, rip-through, pull-up jumper. Splash. Golden State Warriors up 68-65 with 2:11 to play in the third quarter en route to their eventual 104-99 Game 5 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
Durant turns to head back on defense. He takes a step and turns like he dropped his wallet. He looks down at his foot; maybe his shoe fell off like it had so many times before.
No, he quickly realizes this is something far worse.
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Kevin Durant goes to the locker room after suffering an apparent non-contact injury on lower leg https://t.co/JCLv3szwz8
He grabs his right calf, limps his way toward the bench and ultimately to the locker room. The team releases a statement that the injury is a calf strain, not likely an Achilles injury. But this is Durant, who’s carrying the back-to-back champions to the tune of 34.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists on 51.3 percent shooting from the field, 41.6 percent from three and 90.1 percent from the line during the playoffs.
The air is sucked out of a normally raucous Oracle Arena.
“We’re all obviously disappointed for him,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “Excited about the win but concerned for Kevin and disappointed for him. He’s been on this incredible playoff run, and I’m proud of our guys for holding this game out.”
Winning was not a given.
Stephen Curry was nowhere to be found leading up to the injury, scoring 13 points on 16 shots through three quarters. Finally, he and Klay Thompson got back to their splashous ways, combining for 19 points in the fourth quarter and helping the Warriors shake the overwhelming cloud of uncertainty. The Rockets made several pushes, but the Warriors held on, a sign of resilience that gives hope that a fifth straight Finals appearance is still alive.
“Our boys are f–king giants,” Kerr said. “That’s what [Jurgen Klopp] said, and I know how he feels. I apologize to my mom … but our guys are f–king giants. That was an unbelievable victory tonight.”
Durant was not available to the media, but Kerr spoke to him and said, “He’s disappointed, but he’s excited for our guys, for our victory, so we’ll see what happens in the next couple days.”
“I think he’s obviously down because he’s injured and doesn’t know the extent of it,” Curry said. “… Your first thought is Achilles. Thankfully, it wasn’t that.”
In the immediate aftermath of the injury, there was some fear from the players, but veterans led the way.
“In the timeout, Draymond [Green] just said, ‘everybody has to step up. Everybody has to be ready. When your number is called, just be ready,'” Alfonzo McKinnie told B/R. “I think everybody came out and everybody fought, and we were able to get that win.”
DeMarcus Cousins, who has experience with serious injuries, was able to offer direction in the timeout following the injury as well: “Cousins did a really good job of just kind of settling everyone down a bit,” Andre Iguodala said. “Just go play the game. He sent that message, and it got across to all the guys.”
After the game, the Warriors’ locker room was surprisingly upbeat. Durant walked around with a slight limp and a big white sock on his injured right foot, but his teammates were proud of the victory.
“One thing I think everybody understood and understands as a whole is not one person is going to fill that role,” Green said. “We’re going to have to collectively do that. … We really have to rely on each other to search and find great shots. We did that down the stretch. That was the difference for us.”
The Warriors gutted this one out, but no matter how long Durant is out, the ramifications of his injury are seismic.
“With Kevin out, it changes everything,” Kerr said.
Calf strains, depending on the severity, can often sideline you anywhere from three to six weeks. That could put Durant’s return at the NBA Finals, should the Warriors make it that far, which begins May 30.
The Warriors are still one of the most talented teams in the league, even without arguably the best player in the world, but their depth takes another huge blow. And it’s exacerbated by losing Cousins to a quad injury in the second game of the playoffs.
“We’ll have to reconfigure the rotation, so we’ll have time on the plane tomorrow to go over it with the staff, and we’ll go from there,” Kerr said.
We know the Warriors have enough talent to win big games, but the collective feeling of celebration was warranted. Maybe, through this injury, they can galvanize and find another gear.
“I mean, we have a bunch of great players. With a player like K going out, we have other guys that are great,” McKinnie said with a chuckle. “Steph and Klay were just being themselves. They got it going and helped us big time.”
The Rockets had been trying for years to dethrone the champs, building a team specifically designed to beat them. No one wants to win this way, but even after going down 3-2 in a game that was there for the taking, this could be their best chance.
“No, I don’t think we ever relaxed,” Chris Paul said. “It was just a few big plays. [Jonas] Jerebko hit a corner three right after I missed a three. A few offensive rebounds. Draymond hit a three. You know what I mean? We just gotta be better. Let this one go too. It’s over and done with. We can’t get it back. We gotta go home and take care of Game 6.”
Now the momentum has swung back toward the Warriors, who feel good about themselves despite the injury.
“It was a breakthrough for sure,” Curry said. “It’s about trying to endure to the finish line. We’ve got more work to do.”
Follow Will on Twitter, @wontgottlieb.
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