Warriors Win Is Overshadowed by Loss of Kevin Durant
TORONTO — Kevin Durant had just departed for the locker room and an uncertain future when DeMarcus Cousins entered the game for the Golden State Warriors for the first time. It was Monday night at Scotiabank Arena, and a cloud had settled over Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals.
Durant’s teammates could sense that he had sustained a serious injury, but Cousins and the rest of them played on, compartmentalizing their concern. Their business was basketball, and real life would need to wait. Given his own injury history, Cousins could have been more affected than most. But he somehow excelled in a game that the Warriors needed to win.
“We play hard — simple as that,” Cousins said after scoring 14 points off the bench to help the Warriors escape with a 106-105 win against the Toronto Raptors.
But then, Cousins began to vent: about the people who had criticized Durant in recent days for not returning sooner, about the opposing fans in the arena who had cheered when Durant tumbled to the court in obvious pain, about the nature of a profession in which athletes are treated as commodities.
“It’s always about what we can do between those lines,” said Cousins, who returned to the court this season after sitting out for a year with a torn Achilles’ tendon. “That’s all that ever matters. Once we lash out and do human-type things, then we’re considered bad guys.”
Cousins was speaking with emotion, and perhaps for good reason: After witnessing the criticism that Durant has absorbed this season, Cousins also has a keen understanding of the hard road that Durant could face after leaving Monday’s game with a right Achilles’ injury.
Durant was scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Tuesday to determine the extent of the damage. But it appeared to be severe.
Durant said on Instagram: “I’m hurting deep in the soul right now, I can’t lie. But seeing my brothers get this win was like taking a shot of tequila. I got new life, lol.”
“He went out there and sacrificed his body,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said, “and we know how it turned out.”
The Warriors, who trail the Raptors by three games to two in the best-of-seven series, with Game 6 set for Thursday night, are sure to face questions in the coming days about their management of Durant, who had not played since May 8, when he strained his right calf in the Warriors’ second-round series against the Houston Rockets.
Coach Steve Kerr declined to elaborate on the decision-making process that had led to Durant’s return for Game 5. He instead deferred to Bob Myers, the team’s president of basketball operations, who simply said that it had been a “collaborative decision” without offering specifics.
“I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame,” Myers said, “but I understand this world, and if you have to, you can blame me.”
Myers added that Durant had gone through “four weeks with a medical team” that involved “multiple M.R.I.s” and “multiple doctors.” The process was supervised by Rick Celebrini, the Warriors’ director of sports medicine and performance. Myers appeared to anticipate that the organization would face a great deal of scrutiny.
“The people that worked with him and cleared him are good people,” Myers said.
Durant, a 10-time All-Star and one of the league’s great scorers, can become a free agent this summer. He also has a player option on his contract with Golden State for next season. Speculation about his future has swirled for months — a sticky subplot as the Warriors pursued another championship — but his injury could complicate matters.
“I’m just going to pray for the guy,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said, “and I know he’ll be back even stronger.”
Not that anyone needed reminding, but Durant was exceptional in the 12 minutes that he was on the court. He made three of five shots, including all three of his 3-point attempts, and scored 11 points. He grabbed two rebounds. He jawed with the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet. It all looked and felt very familiar. Durant was so good, in fact, that his performance seemed to feed into the false narrative that he had been too painstaking in his rehabilitation, that he had somehow been reluctant to make a return.
There was no merit to any of it, of course.
“The people that questioned whether he wanted to get back to this team were wrong,” Myers said. “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.”
When Durant went down in the second quarter, Kerr found the atmosphere in the arena “eerie and strange,” he said. He did not say anything to his players, he said, because there was nothing he could say.
What followed, though, was another magic act from the Warriors, who erased a 6-point deficit with less than three minutes remaining to assure themselves one final game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., before they relocate to the Chase Center in San Francisco next season.
Afterward, Kerr said he was deeply conflicted: devastated for Durant, but proud of his team for playing with so much resilience.
“They have accomplished so much over the years, and that doesn’t just happen, and it doesn’t just happen with talent,” Kerr said. “There has to be more that goes into it, and it’s that fight, that competitive desire.” He added: “It was brilliant to watch.”
At the same time, it was one of the more morose victories in the history of the N.B.A. finals. Durant left the building on crutches. Myers broke down in tears. And Kerr spoke with the hoarse monotone of someone who sounded as if he had been gargling sand.
“An incredible win,” he said, “and a horrible loss.”
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