Barber: All eyes on Warriors' Kevin Durant, on and off the court
OAKLAND — Moments after Kevin Durant hobbled off the Oracle Arena court in the third quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference semifinals on May 8, his long-time friend and fellow Washington DC native followed in his draft.
“That’s my best friend,” Warriors backup guard Quinn Cook said. “I saw a look on his face that I didn’t like, so I just wanted to go back and check on him.”
Cook rose from the bench and walked up the tunnel, away from the murmuring crowd, past the posters of current Warriors players and into the private sanctum that houses the team’s locker room, showers and training tables.
Center DeMarcus Cousins, another wounded Warrior, joined Cook in the examination room. They listened to Durant’s discussion with team doctors. The outside world would have to wait about 15 hours, until the Warriors received results from an MRI exam, to learn that Durant had strained his right calf, as opposed to tearing his right Achilles tendon. But doctors are pretty good at diagnosing that sort of thing by sight and feel. The Oakland staff was fairly certain Durant had suffered a lesser injury.
“Once I found out it wasn’t Achilles and it was a calf, for me it was a stress reliever,” Cook said.
He returned to the bench and spread the word among his teammates. Durant would not return to that game, or to that series. But he remains in play for the 2019 postseason. And because he is Kevin Durant, owner of a crazily long and limber frame and a virtually unstoppable array of scoring ability, he isn’t merely on the Warriors’ minds during the ongoing West finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. He is coloring the competition, and his teammates’ reactions, and the wider picture of the NBA, even as he scoots around on one good leg.
The first ripple effect Durant had on the Warriors, and the one examined most deeply so far, was to sharpen their focus. It was a logical outcome of losing the most dependable player on the team.
“Definitely, everybody has to step up,” Cook said. “We have to be sharper on defense and offense, knowing obviously that he’s the best player in the world. So we don’t have that luxury, just to give it to him and go get a bucket. We have to be crisper on offense, we have to move the ball, we have to set screens. We have to do more little stuff, because we don’t have K out there.”
The defending champions were gripping when Durant went down. The series was tied at two games apiece, the Warriors led by three points with a couple minutes left in the third quarter of Game 5 and they would play the next one in Houston. The situation was, if not dire, pretty serious.
In case you have been in a medically induced coma for the past week, I can report that the Warriors held on to win Game 5, eliminated the Rockets in a tense Game 6 last Friday and breezed past the Trail Blazers 116-94 in Game 1 of the conference finals Tuesday.
Before Durant’s injury, the Warriors’ average margin of victory in the playoffs (over the equivalent of 48 minutes of play) was 117-111. Since Durant’s injury, the Warriors’ average margin of victory has been 118-105.