The Los Angeles Clippers’ Danilo Gallinari (8) is fouled by the Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant while driving to the basket in the second quarter during Game 6 of the first-round playoff series at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Friday, April 26, 2019. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Kevin Durant nears return, but it won’t be in Game 2

After a Game 1 that showed Golden State’s weaknesses without Kevin Durant, he’s ruled out of Game 2

TORONTO — The Golden State Warriors held an optional workout at Scotiabank Arena on Friday afternoon, but Kevin Durant was not on the floor, at least, at the start. With two days until Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Durant — who has not played since Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals — was in the locker room, getting treatment from the team’s training staff.

While Durant did eventually take the floor to get some individual shooting sets in, as he’s done the last several days, he will not play in Game 2.

“Kevin is not going to play Sunday,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “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.”

Golden State had won five straight games without Durant in the lineup, upping their overall record without him to 31-1 over his three years with the team, before Thursday’s Game 1 loss. In that game, Durant’s length and his cheat code scoring were conspicuous by their absence as the Warriors fell to Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors.

Durant has made steady progress over the last week, but Kerr was adamant that there would be no half measures if and when the two-time Finals MVP returns, which would likely be next week in Oakland, perhaps during Games 3 or 4.

“The thinking is when he’s ready to play, he’ll play,” Kerr said. “It’s not like this is a sore ankle or his knee is sore, whatever, and you can play through it. This is a tricky one. If you re-injure the calf, then that’s it and then he’s done for the series.”

Durant injured his right calf while landing from a 16-foot jumper in the third quarter of Game 5 against the Houston Rockets. At first, he feared an Achilles injury, but was soon diagnosed with what was at the time called a “mild” calf strain. It’s lingered longer and proved to be more serious than originally thought, and Durant only began doing some light shooting just before he and the Warriors left for Toronto.

It was a long shot, even then, that he’d play in the first two games of the series, but him sitting and watching the games at home — as he did for Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals against Portland — wasn’t an option.

“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,” Kerr said. “Kevin also wanted to be with the guys.”

The Warriors need Durant, and as he’s gotten closer to returning, he’s been around the team more.

“You can see him inching closer back to the team,” Green said. “… All of a sudden he’s on the bus to shootaround or to practice. Once you start to get closer, 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. But that’s kind of just the natural build-up when you’re going through an injury.”

The story of Golden State’s run at a third title in a row, and a fourth championship in five years, has largely been centered around Durant. At times effusive and energetic, at others aloof and prickly, Durant has fielded questions about his pending free agency, his sensitivity and his use of social media.

Given that the Warriors went 31-1 (now 31-2) without him on the court (but with Stephen Curry) there have been questions about whether or not — in the wake of the Warriors going 5-0 without him leading up to the Finals — the team even needed him as the Finals approached. After all, with Durant having a transcendent postseason — 39.1 minutes per game, was shooting 51.3% from the field, 41.6% from 3-point range, 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 34.2 points per game — Golden State had gone 7-4 in games where he played, and without him, the face of the franchise, Stephen Curry, had thrived, averaging 35.8 points (he had 36 on Thursday) and shooting 41.7% from 3-point range.

With Durant’s physical mirror — Pascal Siakam — going off for 32 points on Thursday against Draymond Green in Game 1, a game where Durant’s presence on defense could have neutralized the quick, lengthy Cameroonian while the rest of Golden State held down Kawhi Leonard (which they did to great effect), those discussions have halted. Portland was arguably in over its head in the Western Conference Finals, and the Warriors were able to ride adrenaline against the Rockets. The Raptors are different.

Built around length and defense with a certified superstar like Kawhi Leonard deferring to the likes of Mark Gasol and Siakam, with Kyle Lowry playing the role of a Draymond Green — impacting the game without having to score — Kerr admitted on Friday that Toronto reminds him of Golden State, particularly their speed in transition. The best way to deal with that is with length. Length like Durant’s. Thursday night and Friday, Kerr would have none of that speculation.

“He’s done well with his rehab the last couple of days. He’s continuing to ramp stuff up, and I’m just not going to answer any questions about do we miss him against this team or that team or whatever,” Kerr said. “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, and then when he comes back we’ll put him out there. Nothing else matters.”


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