What about Kevin Durant?

And fun fact: The Warriors win three in a row every playoffs.

Kevin Durant left Game 5 with an Achilles injury. Below is the newsletter TrueHoop readers received on Saturday, after Game 4, which collects comments from the Warriors about Durant’s injury.


BY HENRY ABBOTT

Without fancy scanners and medical certifications, no one can know who is or isn’t injured or in pain. And when injured players force their way back prematurely, it tends to turn out terribly. (One of the saddest and dumbest things I’ve ever watched was the game in which Redskins quarterback RG III basically ended his career.) Toughness is a kind of blindness; it can cause accidents.

We have no idea what Kevin Durant is going through, and there’s no point in speculating.

Now that Klay Thompson (strained hamstring) and Kevon Looney (damaged shoulder) are back on the court, however, and the once-favored Warriors still seem outmatched, it’s increasingly clear that the Warriors, down 3-1 in these Finals after Friday night’s 105-92 thumping by the Raptors, don’t have the firepower to win three in a row without Durant.

The status of Durant’s strained right calf is still a question mark for Golden State’s must-win Game 5 Monday, but presumably the Warriors’ coaches and players know more than we do. I couldn’t help but look for clues in their public comments. Do they feel Durant is doing everything he can? There does seem to be a near-total absence of comments about how badly Durant wants to be out there, or how tough he is. Instead, there seems to be a lot of toughness talk about other players and repeated suggestions that Durant should be back soon.

SATURDAY—STEPHEN CURRY, ON DURANT
“Anybody who goes through an injury like that, you kind of feel alienated because your schedule is a little different. Most of the time you're on kind of iso with our athletic training staff, putting extra hours in. Stuff starts to feel monotonous, especially with the big stage of the Finals here and now. So I think he's handled that well, understanding his time is coming sooner than later.”

SUNDAY—STEVE KERR, ON THOMPSON
“Klay said he'll be fine, but Klay could be half dead and he would say he would be fine.”

WEDNESDAY—KERR, ON DURANT
"He had a really good workout yesterday. Ramped it up, and it went well. He had another one today; it went well. So we would like to increase it tomorrow, meaning get other people involved; he hasn't played any 3-on-3, 5-on-5."

PRE-GAME FRIDAY—KERR, ON DURANT
"We're hoping he can play in Game 5 or 6. Everything in between, I've decided I'm not sharing because it's just gone haywire. There's so much going on."

POST-GAME FRIDAY—THOMPSON, ON HIMSELF
“It’s the Finals, it’s a long season, you play a hundred-plus games, you’re going to be banged up. But you just got to dig so deep. No one’s going to feel sorry for you, so you just got to go out there, man up, and play to the best of your ability.”

POST-GAME FRIDAY—DRAYMOND GREEN, ON DURANT
“As far as KD, there's been hope that he will come back the whole series. So that's not going to change now. Obviously we hope to have him, but we'll see what happens. We don't make that final call, his—he don't really even make that final call. His body will tell him if he can get out there or not. And if he can, great; and if not, you still got to try to find a way to win the next game.”

POST-GAME FRIDAY—KERR, ON THOMPSON AND LOONEY
“Klay was amazing, with a tweaked hamstring to do what he did. Looney as well, coming in and playing 20 minutes given his injury status. So both those guys are--they’re warriors. No pun intended. They just compete, compete, compete, and I’m really proud of both of them.”

POST-GAME FRIDAY—KERR, ON LOONEY to NBA Sports Bay Area
“The ultimate competitor. He has some fractured cartilage in his chest, and he's out there battling ... playing his tail off. I have so much respect for that guy. He's amazing.”

FRIDAY—BRIAN WINDHORST, ON DURANT
“Durant’s just not ready. His body’s not ready. The trainers don’t believe it. He doesn’t believe it. He tried to do some stuff in practice yesterday. It didn’t work. There was frustration all around.”

SATURDAY—JALEN ROSE, ON PROS AND JOES, AFTER WATCHING DURANT WORKOUT
“It didn’t go well on any level. It did not go well on any level … I went from being a guy that thinks that he may come back later in the series. Now I feel like he might not come back at all.”


Yes, the Warriors can win three in a row

BY DON SKWAR

With the Raptors ahead 3-1 in the Finals, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index places the chances of Toronto’s winning the title at 91 percent. The Warriors would need to run off three straight wins, including two on the road.

But it’s not like the Warriors haven’t won three games in a row before in the playoffs. In fact, they do it every year. During their run to each of the last five NBA Finals, the Warriors have won at least three games in a row in a playoff series 12 times.


This is a Nick Nurse production

BY DAVID THORPE

In the 2015 NBA Finals, Golden State trailed the injury-depleted Cleveland Cavaliers 2-1, thanks to a relentless and swarming defense focused mainly on Stephen Curry. But by the end of Game 3, Curry and coach Steve Kerr teamed up to make the right plays, with the right players in the game, and they swept to a 4-2 series win and a title. Everyone knew the Cavs were outgunned when they entered the Finals without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, but still, the Warriors deserved to be called Champions. They figured things out, it didn’t matter how it went down.

There are no apologies in winning games. Or titles.

This Warriors team is nothing like that 2015 Finals version. It’s not even like the team we saw just before the All-Star break this year or the one we saw sweep the Trail Blazers last month.

But place no asterisks on the accomplishments of the Raptors--a confident, connected team that relies on multiple impactful efforts from its core players while getting an MVP-level performance from Kawhi Leonard. Their task is to win games, not come up with excuses for why their opponents were not better.

Think about who has had very good, if not great, games this series. Kawhi. Pascal Siakam. Kyle Lowry. Danny Green. Marc Gasol. Fred VanVleet. Serge Ibaka. And Norman Powell played a huge role in the Eastern finals.

Now think about their poor production in Game 4, when a scrambling Warriors defense helped limit Toronto to just 42 first-half points, their worst half of the Finals. They missed a ton of shots, but despite the defensive effort they faced, they had just three turnovers (and 14 less than the Warriors throughout the Finals). Their spacing and timing were still solid, and once their shots started to fall, the game turned. The Raptors had just nine turnovers in their decisive 105-92 win at Oakland that gave them a commanding 3-1 series lead, a series--a title--that can be wrapped up Monday night in delirious Toronto.

The same can be said for the Raptors’ defensive work. Gasol or Ibaka have always seemed to be at the rim when necessary. Rim protection is vital but must be matched with awareness to perimeter shooters. The Raptors did a poor job of this in parts of Game 3 but fixed that problem Friday night, finding and hounding Curry all game. In all but one quarter of the Finals, the Raptors’ defense has turned the Warriors into a one-man team. That hasn’t been remotely good enough.

Ujiri’s boldest move: hiring his assistant to be head coach
Team president Masai Ujiri has been roundly and deservedly praised for his acquisition of Kawhi and then Gasol. But those moves, while likely the best ones he’s made, weren’t his boldest. Not even close. His firing of Dwane Casey wasn’t either, as the team had clearly reached its ceiling under him. In a league where former head coaches play neverending musical chairs, Ujiri’s choice to promote Nurse from assistant coach to the top spot was his bravest one.

He chose wisely. The Raptors trailed in all three of their Eastern Conference series. Nurse held his team together, and here they are. He created an on-court culture for players to thrive. That doesn’t just happen on paper or by roster adjustments. It happens when coaches strategically position players to be most successful.

The best coaches coax better results from players even after they fail. Kawhi likely did not need much from Nurse to excel. Lowry and Gasol didn’t either. But Raptors like veteran Spurs shooter Danny Green have been given new life with Nurse at the helm. Green was mired in an awful slump until he scored seemingly at will in Game 3 Wednesday night. Toronto has clearly been the best coached team during this series..

There’s a lesson here that owners may one day heed: The most important item on a prospective head NBA coach’s resume isn’t whether or not he got fired from his last NBA job.

This could have been over in four
The truth is, this series should be over. Had Nurse found a way to slow the Warriors’ 18-0 third-quarter run in Game 2, the trophy would be in Toronto by the time the city--heck, the province and all of Canada--woke up on Saturday morning.

The Raptors have won 13 of 16 quarters and seven of their last eight playoff games against the teams with the two best records in the league. In Game 4, the Warriors outscored the Raptors in the first half by four points by playing like a bunch of prime Joakim Noahs, where every possession seemed like life or death. And the life that the Warriors did possess became death once their legs and minds were gone in the second half. There’s a price to pay for missing so much talent to injury. There’s also a price to pay in expending so much of Curry’s energy in Game 3.

Nurse didn’t do anything special for his defense of Curry in that game, other than forcing him to do most of the scoring for his undermanned team. What Curry did then was just too much to be replicated two nights later. He was out of gas.

While the effort from the Warriors waned, the Raptors’ confidence and poise grew. The Raptors’ two primary ball handlers, Lowry and Leonard, patiently waited for a crease to attack. That chance often arrived just after Siakam had beaten the defense with a simple pass to an open player. The Raptors’ offense found a groove again. The same shots that missed in the first half of Game 4 started to fall. Then two more things happened: Kawhi got rolling and the Raptors realized the defending champs were again down to one offensive threat.

Return of the box-and-one
This time the Warriors’ primary offensive threat was Klay Thompson. So when he sat to get some rest with 3:17 left in the third quarter and trailing by two points, Nurse rolled out his box-and-one defense from Game 2. As expected, Kerr had an answer, bringing in Quinn Cook a minute later as a designated scorer. Cook is a good shooter, often. But not this time. The tired Warriors died. By the time Curry scored Golden State’s first field goal since Thompson had checked out, with 38 seconds left, the Warriors were down 11 points, and the game was all but over.

The Raptors beat Golden State by 16 points in that quarter before cruising in the fourth to take the 3-1 lead back home. Teams in the last two postseasons that win a quarter by 10 or more points and don’t lose one by the same 10 or more are now 74-3. The Warriors, as pointed out here yesterday, are not the third-quarter team they once were. Throughout their 20 playoff games this year, the Warriors averaged 28.8 points and gave up 28.2. Hardly devastating.

Chalk up another win for trainers in this series
You didn't need to know what the final score was to declare a win for Golden State's training staff. Thompson was terrific. Sitting out Game 3 to rest his strained hamstring enabled him to do what we saw Friday night. It did come at a cost to Curry, who had no help in Game 3. But it’s hard to imagine Klay playing Wednesday night to great effect AND doing so again two nights later.

In future postseasons it’s fair to think more teams will choose this route. The conventional thinking has often been “if he can walk, he’ll play.” That dogma came from a time when the game was played with minimal running, attacking from a small patch of court around the rim. Playing hurt when the injury is in the lower extremities not only inhibits effectiveness but also limits a chance to heal.

Finding Draymond’s shot should be the summer plan
In the 2015-16 season, Draymond Green shot 38.8 percent from 3-point range. His career year. This year he was at 28.5 percent, his worst since his pedestrian rookie season. That lack of perimeter skill has killed the spacing and timing of the Cuisinart that is the Warriors’ hectic but humming offense, absent those injured stars. It once looked like a 29-year-old Green could be a true scoring threat. Now, he’s someone defenses can ignore. A Warriors’ core of Curry, Thompson, Green, and Kevon Looney CAN contend next season, but only if Green re-learns how to shoot.


David Thorpe’s Kyle Lowry Report: Game 4

After each game of these Finals, TrueHoop’s resident analyst and coach, David Thorpe, will turn his critical insight and teachings on the performance of guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry is a key component in the Raptors’ quest for their first title in their 24-year history.

Kyle Lowry has a reputation for being better in the regular season than in the postseason. In Game 3, Lowry stepped up as a scorer and still pushed his team--would he keep that up in Game 4?

Lowry isn’t someone who can be judged just by his scoring. His bullheadedness, spirit, and game management must always be considered too. Game 4 was quintessential Lowry. He never forced anything and always kept the tempo coach Nick Nurse wanted.

He’s instilling confidence in the younger Raptors
Lowry did something else too, something key. He believed in his younger teammates. Early in the first quarter, Pascal Siakam was matched up with DeMarcus Cousins on the perimeter. For some unknown reason, Siakam passed the ball out to Lowry. Lowry IMMEDIATELY threw the ball, hard, back to Siakam. The force of the pass told Siakam “MAN, GO GET A BUCKET ON THAT BIG SLOW DUDE.”

Siakam attacked Cousins, and missed. But the message was received. Decades ago the Lakers’ James Worthy, long before he earned the moniker of “Big Game James,” was in a similar situation. He spoke after retirement about how Magic Johnson used to say to him, “I’m coming to you.”

The elder Worthy smiled as he recalled the feeling of being told that Magic saw him as a weapon, even with the incomparable Kareem-Abdul Jabbar on the court. Siakam, VanVleet, even reluctant-to-shoot Marc Gasol will one day tell similar stories of Lowry.

As Kawhi said of Lowry, to ESPN’s Doris Burke while on the floor of Oracle Arena, “He’s our quarterback. He’s a great basketball player. He’s showing it right now. And, you know, he wants to win bad. We are playing to win. We don’t care who gets to shine. Whoever’s night it is, that’s whose night it is."

Lowry missed his four 3-point attempts and made just three field goals in Game 4. But his presence was never in doubt. This was not the “where was Lowry?” feeling we had after Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs against the Orlando Magic. This time, like in Game 3, Lowry happily played off of Kawhi and let him go to work. Then, when his team needed their leader to take control, Lowry was right there, guiding them to a 63-point second half outburst.

He mostly just looked to shoot when he got a Warriors center to guard him off a switch. Had his teammates been unable to score, Lowry’s performance would have looked much worse. This, though, is how a primary ball handler who isn’t a top scorer has to be measured. He didn’t spend all game trying to force more possessions toward a one-on-one matchup between him and Cousins, Andrew Bogut, or Kevon Looney. Instead, Lowry focused on helping his team score.

Leonard will be the unanimous choice for MVP if the Raptors win Game 5. But if there were an all-tournament team, we’d see Lowry’s name on it.