Update at 6:19: Warriors have released anofficial statement regarding both Durant and Cousins.
OAKLAND — Before Thursday’s Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers told NBC Sports Bay Area that Kevin Durant will not travel to Portland with the team for Games 3 and 4.
Durant, who suffered a strained right calf in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Hosuton Rockets, had already been ruled out for Game 2 against Portland. According to a team statement, Durant and DeMarcus Cousins (left quad) were both re-evaluated before Game 2, and will likely miss the rest of the conference finals.
Without Durant — having arguably the best playoff run of his career — the Warriors were able to close out the Rockets in Game 6, and put an 18-point beating on the Trail Blazers in Game 1, largely because of out-sized contributions from the bench, and vintate performances from both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Now they’ll be faced with getting to their fifth straight NBA Finals without the two-time Finals MVP for a significant portion of the conference finals.
“I think we had success before Kevin was here, so there’s a lot of experience to lean on,” Kerr said. “We’ve got a lot of talent, obviously, so the players have a more desperate mentality when Kevin is out, and they know they have to perform at a high level in order for our team to do well. “
Durant is not yet ready to advance to on-court work, though he has “shown good progress” since starting his rehab one week ago. Up until he landed awkwardly on a jumper on the right wing with 2:05 to go in Game 5 against the Rockets, he was averaging his most playoff assists since 2012-13 (4.9), scoring a career-playoff-best 34.2 points per game and shooting his career-best career playoff 3-point percentage (41.6). He also pulled down an average of 5.2 boards per game.
“We all know we’re a much better team with him, and we’re going to need him,” Kerr said. “So, we’re trying to do everything we can to keep this thing going until we get him back.”
It’s a curious stat, then, that Golden State is 28-1 (including playoffs) without Durant. During stretches where he’s been on the floor without Durant this postseason, Curry has scored 134 points in 137 minutes (46.9 per 48 minutes) and the Warriors are +29. That’s not to say that Golden State is better without Durant, but it does suggest that the Warriors — because of Kerr’s free-flowing offense — are better equipped to be without him than a team that relies exclusively and heavily on his specific talents (a la the Rockets and James Harden). They did get to two NBA Finals (and won one) without him, after all.
“To be able to lean on that experience, they know that they can hold down the fort until he’s back,” Kerr said.
That means altering rotations and minutes, including seeing Curry play in the third quarter. Curry scored 33 points in the second half of Game 6 (23 in the fourth quarter) to sink Houston, and delivered 36 in the opener against Portland.
“With [Durant] on the court, there’s just another great offensive player, and so when you put him out there with Steph and Klay, it’s really challenging from a defensive standpoint,” said Portland head coach Terry Stotts. “His versatility in his offense, when you take him out of it, I think they do play a different style. Certainly Curry gets more involved. I think Klay gets more involved because they need to. So, the focus or emphasis on those guys probably becomes a little more.”
Since Durant went down, Curry is shooting 50% from the field (26-for-52) with 85 points in just over nine quarters of work. Over the same period, Thompson has shot 46.9% from the field (23-for-49) and scored 61 points.
“I think Klay and Steph take on a bigger responsibility, scoring-wise, and they look to go into games more aggressively when Kevin is out,” Kerr said. “They know what they have to do. We’re pretty dependent on their scoring when Kevin is not in there. We’ve seen it the last couple games, and they’ve been very impressive.”
So has the bench. Against the Rockets in Game 6, the Warriors’ reserves scored 33 points, led by 11 points from Shaun Livingston and 14 from Kevon Looney. In Game 1 against the Trail Blazers, they got 36 points from the bench, including at least three points from seven different players, led by nine from Jonas Jerebko.
The Warriors’ bench — thin in the best of circumstances this season — has been under a brighter spotlight not only because of Durant’s injury, but because of the torn left quadriceps of DeMarcus Cousins. Golden State remains hopeful that, should they reach the Finals, their prized offsesaon acquisition could continue the roll he was on over the final four games of the regular season, when he averaged 20.5 points and 11 boards and four assists.
“DeMarcus is coming along,” Kerr said. “He’s starting to do some work on the floor, so he’s not exactly close to playing in a game, but he’s making good strides with his rehab and getting out on the court and starting to do some conditioning things. We’ll see where that goes.”
Cousins, who was also evaluated by team medical staff before Game 2, has progressed to on-court work, but is still not ready for live action. At this time, Golden State said, the plan is for both players to be re-evaluated again in one week.