Barber: Warriors need Kevin Durant against tall, fast Raptors


Some people like to bring cherished items from home to provide comfort and familiarity when they travel. Former A’s and Giants pitcher Barry Zito used to tote a special fuchsia pillowcase that his mother had told him would assist his brain waves. One woman famously attempted to board a United Airlines flight with an “emotional support peacock.” Others set the bar lower, with framed photos of the kids or a favored stuffed animal.

The Warriors? They brought Kevin Durant to Toronto.

Durant isn’t actually going to play against the Raptors in Toronto. Coach Steve Kerr confirmed that Friday, during Media Fun Time at Scotiabank Arena.

“Kevin is not going to play Sunday,” Kerr said. “Yeah. I guess we have been sort of holding out hope, but I might as well just say it now. He’s not practicing today. We’ll have a practice tomorrow. But he’s still progressing. It’s near impossible for him to play on Sunday.”

Meaning Games 1 and 2 will have passed, Durant-less, when the Warriors fly back to Oakland for the next couple of skirmishes. Asked why his 7-foot wonder made the long flight, Kerr said, “Because our training staff is here and we need him with our training staff, and we also need our training staff for the rest of our players. Kevin also wanted to be with the guys.”

Kerr’s reply was somewhere between 0 and 100 percent true. When you reach the late stages of the NBA playoffs, the authenticity of any statement must remain in doubt.

It’s quite possible that Durant did, indeed, simply want to share the camaraderie of the Finals with his Warriors teammates, and that team doctors determined a few hours on an airplane wouldn’t do any damage to his strained calf. But he didn’t travel to Portland, a much shorter flight, in the previous round. He stayed home with a member of the training staff while his mates dispatched the Trail Blazers.

This time Durant is, in effect, the Warriors’ emotional support peacock.

“Now you kind of see him around the team more,” Draymond Green said Friday. “All of a sudden he’s on the bus to shootaround or to practice. Once you start to get closer (to healing), you start to kind of move back into a normal schedule. You starting to see him, hear his voice more. You’re starting to hear him coming up with adjustments even before the game, giving his input.”

Durant won’t drop 35 points on the Raptors in Game 2. He probably won’t even sit on the Warriors bench during the game; that has not been his custom lately. But when teammates shuffle into the locker room at halftime, they can glance over and think, “Of course we got this. We have Kevin Freakin’ Durant. Look at how poised and confident he is as he gets his lower leg massaged.”

The problem is that the Warriors need more than emotional support right now. They need tall people who can run fast.

The Raptors simply outraced the Warriors on Thursday night. Game 1 was close to even when it came to 3-pointers (13-12, Toronto), free throws made (29-27, Golden State) and rebounds (38-36, Golden State). The difference was that the Warriors turned over the ball 16 times to the Raptors’ 10, and Toronto converted too many of those mistakes into points by getting down the court faster. The home team held an advantage of 24-17 in fast-break points, and the margin felt greater.

Friday, someone asked Kerr if the athletic Raptors rekindle memories of any previous postseason series during this five-year run.

“I’m not sure if it reminds me of any of our series, but they remind me of us in a lot of ways,” Kerr said.

He talked about power forwards Draymond Green and Pascal Siakam pushing the ball in transition, and how the two opponents both, at times, go with multiple point guards in the backcourt.

Kerr wasn’t wrong about any of it, but these NBA Finals do remind me a little of a previous series - the 2016 Western Conference Finals against Oklahoma City.

When the Warriors fell behind 3-2 in that one, everybody was talking about the Thunder’s length and speed. And really, it was the combination of the two traits that had the Warriors on the ropes. Most NBA guards tend to be lean and fast. It’s the big men whose mileage varies. That OKC team had bigs who could get around. The starting center, Steven Adams, was/is very agile for a 7-footer. Andre Roberson was a 6-7 wing player with great athleticism. Power forward Serge Ibaka could move then, and he still can - he plays for the Raptors now and logged 17 quality minutes Thursday.

The 2016 Thunder’s small forward, of course, was Kevin Durant. He was the dominant threat to the Warriors then, and his absence may be their biggest weakness now.

Kerr, frankly, is tired of discussing the meaning of Durant’s injury.

“I’m just not going to answer any questions about do we miss him against this team or that team or whatever,” he said Friday. “Because it’s just a sound bite and it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is we have to win the game with what we have.”

The truth is undeniable, though. There are times when Durant is, as Kerr has called him before, “the ultimate luxury” for the Warriors. They were pretty great before he arrived, and they have been greater with him.

Durant’s precise value changes depending on the opponent. The Warriors would have loved to play him against the Trail Blazers, but they clearly didn’t need him. They fell behind by 17-plus points in each of the final three games of the West finals and won all three.

The Raptors are a different tale. These guys are built like the ’16 Thunder in the frontcourt. Siakam is a still-improving, 6-9 forward with unworldly athletic ability. Kawhi Leonard is an underrated physical talent at 6-7. Ibaka can still beat a lot of 6-10 peers down the court, and so can 7-1 Marc Gasol, despite his 34 years. Danny Green, at 6-6, is sort of Toronto’s Andre Roberson, and coach Nick Nurse grew his rotation by giving some of 6-4 Normal Powell’s minutes to 6-7 Patrick McCaw, the former Warrior.

Toronto’s track-team approach is especially worrisome for the Warriors in light of Andre Iguodala’s physical issue. He left Thursday night’s game limping. And while an MRI exam turned up negative, and Kerr noted that “I talked to him and he said he felt pretty good,” and Iguodala has most of three days to rest, it can’t be good news that one of the Warriors’ best open-court players is gimpy.

What a perfect time this would be for Durant’s calf to pass the test. He doesn’t run the floor with the ferocity of, say, Draymond Green. But Durant has the height/speed ratio that might have evened up Game 1 - or given the Warriors a clear advantage in Game 2.

Alas, Kerr’s team will have to beat the Raptors with “what we have,” and there is mixed comfort in that.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-529-5218 or Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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