Inside the Warriors’ emotional night processing Kevin Durant’s injury

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TORONTO — The tears filled their eyes.

Kevin Durant became emotional when he felt pain in what the team later fears to be a torn right Achilles tendon. And when he walked out of the arena with crutches and a walking boot. And when he processed the Warriors’ 106-105 win over the Toronto Raptors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday, an outcome that closed the series to 3-2 and ensured a Game 6 in what will be the final game at Oracle Arena on Thursday.

Durant’s teammates became emotional as they helped him off the court. And when they channeled their frustration and concern toward their play. And when they spoke about their All-Star teammate in glowing terms for reasons besides helping them win two consecutive NBA titles and returning from a right calf injury in hopes of salvaging the Finals.

“Everybody gets so wrapped up in chasing championships and the greatness that you see on the floor,” Stephen Curry said. “But life is more important in terms of caring about an individual and what they’re going through on a daily basis.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr became emotional when he addressed his team following the win. And when he processed Durant’s debilitating injury that will only be confirmed with an MRI scheduled sometime on Tuesday. And when he saw Durant rehab his right calf injury for more than a month.

“I just told the team I didn’t know what to say,” Kerr said. “On the one hand, I’m so proud of them, just the amazing heart and grit that they showed. And on the other, I’m just devastated for Kevin. So it’s a bizarre feeling that we all have right now. An incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time.”

Finally, Warriors general manager Bob Myers became emotional when he walked with Durant out of the arena. And when his eyes watered when he sat at the podium. And when he processed any suggestion that Durant’s prolonged injury partly reflected any dissatisfaction with the team or any want to preserve his value when he plans to become an unrestricted free agent in less than a month.

“Kevin Durant loves to play basketball, and the people that questioned whether he wanted to get back to this team were wrong,” Myers said through tearful eyes and a quivering voice. “He’s one of the most misunderstood people. He’s a good teammate. He’s a good person. It’s not fair. I’m lucky to know him.”

———

Before he could be asked, Myers strongly defended the training staff’s decision to clear Durant and for Kerr to play him. Myers described the process as “thorough,” saying it entailed Durant receiving “multiple MRI’s” and visiting “multiple doctors” after straining his right calf against Houston in the playoffs May 8. The Warriors remained patient as Durant missed 14 playoff games. They also required Durant to complete a full practice before playing, something he had not done until Sunday.

“That was a collaborative decision,” Myers said. “I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame, but I understand in this world and if you have to, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations department.”

Why would Myers consider himself blameworthy?

“I don’t think there’s anybody to blame, but I get it,” Myers said. “That stuff happens. I hope nobody does. I don’t think it should land on anybody. But if you feel like you need to…”

Myers then stopped as his voice trailed off. In reality, the Warriors do not blame Myers. Instead, they respected Myers for speaking so thoughtfully about Durant and for shouldering blame when they did not feel it was necessary. Internally, the Warriors do not blame the training staff either.

The Warriors may have initially considered Durant’s calf injury to be “mild.” Four days before the NBA Finals started, though, the Warriors’ training staff determined Durant was still not ready for contact drills. The Warriors maintained optimism Durant would eventually play. Dr. Rick Celebrini, the Warriors’ director of sports medicine and performance, had told Kerr that Durant’s rehab “could be a couple of weeks or a couple of months.”

The Warriors had exercised caution with other injuries, too.

They sat Klay Thompson in Game 3 because of a tight hamstring before clearing him for Game 4. They sat Warriors forward Kevon Looney in Game 3 after he suffered a fracture around his chest and ribs. After initially ruling Looney out indefinitely, the Warriors received other opinions that said he could play so long as he could handle the pain. He returned in Game 4 only to aggravate the injury in Game 5.

The Warriors were patient with DeMarcus Cousins, who returned from a left Achilles tendon almost a year after the injury. The Warriors initially sidelined him indefinitely after tearing a left quad muscle in Game 2 of the Warriors’ first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers. They then accommodated Cousins’ return for the NBA Finals. They refused to allow Durant to return earlier in the Finals even when facing a 2-1 series deficit.

“The people that worked with him and cleared him are good people,” Myers said. “They’re good people.”

After all, Hall of Fame point guard and Warriors consultant Steve Nash strongly credited Celebrini for extending his 19-year NBA career after dealing with chronic back issues. During his first year with the Warriors, they have credited Celebrini for his thoroughness, patience and collaborative approach. Before his injury, Durant looked spry and normal en route to 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting in 12 minutes. Hence, the Warriors do not see Durant’s latest injury related.

“The initial injury was a calf injury. This is not a calf injury,” Myers said. “I’m not a doctor, I don’t know how those are related or not, but it’s a different injury.”

———

Nonetheless, Durant’s latest injury sparked reminders of his previous ailment. Both were non-contact injuries. Both tested the Warriors’ resolve in a pivotal playoff game. Both yielded uncertainty about his future.

With 9:55 left in the second quarter, Durant handled the ball against Toronto forward Serge Ibaka. Durant crossed over left, planted his right foot and pulled up in pain before falling to the ground. Durant tugged at his foot, ankle and calf before being helped up.

Immediately, Celebrini, Curry and Andre Iguodala helped Durant up.

“It’s more than basketball, but no one wants to understand that part,” Iguodala said. “They only care about the game. It’s hard for me to express because nobody respects it.”

Initially, the Raptors fans did not respect it. They cheered loudly as if Durant missed a shot or committed a turnover. The Warriors became offended immediately. Curry reported feeling “very confused around that reaction” after living in Toronto when his dad played there (1999-2002).

“That’s not my experience with this city,” Curry said. “I just hope that ugliness doesn’t show itself again as we go forward in this series.”

It probably will not. The Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and Danny Green scolded the fans for cheering. The crowd quickly quieted. They took up a supportive chant of “KD, KD!”

“I don’t think the fans knew the significance of the injury,” Lowry said. “They kind of just seen he went down. In this league we’re all brothers. At the end of the day, we’re all brothers and it’s a small brotherhood and you never want to see a competitor like him go down. You don’t know what the circumstances are.”

The Warriors knew those circumstances, though. So Celebrini, Iguodala and Curry all walked with Durant to the locker room as well. It made sense for Celebrini given his job description. It made sense for Iguodala since he was on the bench. It did not make sense for Curry, who had been on the floor in a pivotal elimination game.

Curry struggled remembering the exact words he and Durant shared with each other at that point. No doubt “it was kind of an emotional moment all the way around,” as Curry put it. Curry remembered exactly why, though, why he walked with Durant even at the expense of playing in the game.

“Sometimes the spirit tells you what to do,” Curry said. “You don’t really make decisions. You just act on it. So I can’t tell you what went through my heart. It just felt right.”

Durant had spent more than a month rehabbing his calf injury. He had heard the talk about how the Warriors were better without him and how he maybe wasn’t even trying to get back on the court, given his status as a free agent next month, a status now darkly clouded by an injury with a standard recovery time of 8-12 months.

“Kevin takes a lot of hits sometimes, but he just wants to play basketball and right now he can’t,” Myers said. “Basketball has gotten him through his life. I don’t know that we can all understand how much it means to him. He just wants to play basketball with his teammates and compete.”

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