Last night, Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors had one possession to win the NBA championship. Get a bucket: you win. Fail to do so: you fly to Oakland for another chance. As Fred VanVleet swung the ball to Kyle in the corner with 2 seconds left in the game, Raptors fans held their breath, Shakespeare revived himself to see the greatest poetic moment since he died, and then Draymond Green left hundreds of millions in disbelief. In the words of Eminem, they had one shot, one opportunity, and they just let it slip.
Rightfully so, the one point loss is something that Raptors supporters, and Warriors adversaries will not be able to get over until Thursday night. It’s tough not to think about each and every possession that could have swung in the Raptors favour but didn’t.
Aside from all of that, there was one moment that overshadowed the NBA universe for the past 24 hours, and it occurred early in the second quarter.
Poor Kevin Durant. Poor Knicks fans. When Kevin Durant went down on a non-contact injury with just under 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter, the NBA witnessed what would change the entire league for the next few years to come. Not only does it change the rest of this series – which I really can’t see the Warriors winning anymore, but it might become one of the biggest “what if” questions in NBA history. His wonderers won’t be on the same level as those of young greats like Derrick Rose and Brandon Roy who never got an opportunity to blossom into what they should’ve been, but KD this injury could have cost Kevin Durant 2 rings on his fingers, which would have put him in the greatest-of-all-time conversation.
To a point, it’s the media’s fault for the career-altering injury to one of the best players in basketball. When Kawhi Leonard was battling an injury of his own in San Antonio, the media tried to force him back to play prematurely, and when he spoke up for himself, fans and reporters were quick to question his desire to play basketball. That narrative effectively crawled into the locker room, and he later became frustrated with the lack of trust among the people around him, demanding a trade elsewhere.
KD was likely trying to avoid a similar situation. With all due respect to the legend, he is a sensitive guy. He’s been seen firing back at fans on Twitter through burner accounts, defending his decision to leave Oklahoma City to anyone who wants to talk about it, and sounding off on reporters numerous times when he feels provoked. If he had sat out Game 5, these Kawhi Leonard – esque narratives would start coming back, and that would have bothered KD more than the pain he was battling.
His whole life, he had been building to this point where he was finally being credited as the best player in basketball, and that was a legacy he was hoping to cement by showing the world how much the Warriors needed him in this series. He could not have asked for a better situation from an individual perspective: your team is struggling, down 3-1 in The Finals, and you come back during a road game to pull out a W. Though the Warriors may not have won without his 11 points on 3/3 three-point shooting, the outcome was anything but what he had hoped for.
Something that I am disappointed in as a basketball fan was Steve Kerr’s ability to manage KD in this game. Prior to the game, Kerr said that he would be giving Durant short spurts of action to get him back into game rhythm. Just looking at the numbers, Kerr did anything but that. Of the 14 minutes and 8 seconds that KD was available to play in the game, he was on the court for all but 2 minutes and 1 second. He was on pace to play almost 41 minutes in a game where he was coming back from a serious injury, and hadn’t played competitive basketball in over a month. That’s irresponsible coaching.
The other perspective is to blame the Warriors training staff. They must have been well aware of the risk that KD was taking by returning so soon. Experts claim that any doctor understands the risk of aggravating a calf injury and tearing your achilles by putting too much pressure on yourself too early. Anyone who has been watching the NBA for the past few years knows how devastating an achilles injury can be, as we saw it last year with Demarcus Cousins, and with Kobe Bryant in 2013.
The Warriors training staff did such an excellent job holding Klay Thompson out when he wanted to play in Game 3, and it worked perfectly for them, as he helped lead them to a comeback win in Game 5. The same training staff failed to treat Durant with the same respect. They cleared him when he should not have been, likely due to the must-win scenario that the Warriors were in, and the fact that if they had lost that game, KD would probably leave in free agency. While this is simply speculation, the dots are aligned.
An emotional Bob Myers said after the game that the training staff are all “good people”, and I have zero doubt that they are. They made a mistake last night though, and they must be held accountable for it.
It’s tough to see such an incredible talent go down, knowing we might not be able to see him grace the basketball court until the beginning of the 2020-2021 season. The league will be much different then, and so will Kevin Durant.
Despite the many Raptors fans that wrongfully cheered his injury, we wish KD a speedy recovery. The league won’t be the same without him.