Kevin Durant’s long-awaited return from injury on Monday with the Golden State Warriors season on the line in the NBA Finals was short-lived as he suffered an Achilles injury in his first game in over a month.
Durant made a stellar start against the Toronto Raptors but went down suddenly in the opening minutes of the second quarter when he planted his right foot to push off on a dribble-drive but the resilient Warriors managed to hang on for the win.
The towering Durant, an elite shooter and rim protector who when healthy turns the Warriors into a near-unstoppable group, immediately hobbled to the side of the court where he dropped to the floor and clutched his lower right leg.
He was helped to the locker-room by team mates Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala and along the way screamed out an expletive.
“He was cleared to play tonight; that was a collaborative decision,” Warriors General Manager Bob Myers said while fighting back tears.
“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.
“To tell you something about Kevin Durant, Kevin Durant loves to play basketball, and the people that questioned whether he wanted to get back to this team were wrong … he’s a good team mate, he’s a good person, it’s not fair.”
Myers said Durant, who left the arena using crutches and wearing a walking boot, would have an MRI on Tuesday.
The Warriors, who led by five points at the time of Durant’s injury and by as many as 14 points in the second half, prevailed 106-105 to cut the Raptors’ lead in the best-of-seven series to 3-2 and keep alive their bid for a third consecutive title and fourth in five years.
EERIE AND STRANGE
As soon as Durant went down Raptors fans, fully aware of his ability to take over a series, immediately started to cheer but only after several Toronto players motioned to the home crowd to stop did they start chanting “K-D! K-D!” in support.
“Some of the fans were cheering when it happened, and I think the Raptors players understood how serious it was and they sort of quieted the crowd,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.
“There was just a couple minutes there where it all seemed so eerie and strange, and it took maybe a little bit for both teams to collect themselves.”
When the four-time NBA scoring leader suffered a calf injury in the second round on the playoffs, he could only watch on helplessly as the Warriors went undefeated to reach the Finals before being pushed to the brink of elimination.
Durant was cleared by the Warriors’ medical staff after Game Four and practised with the team on Sunday for the first time since his injury.
With Durant back in the lineup for the first time in over a month, the Warriors immediately looked like their usual sharpshooting selves and set the early tone.
Durant, named Most Valuable Player in each of the Warriors championships the last two years, scored 11 in an impressive first quarter in which he drained a trio of three-pointers.
“Prayers up to KD. He gave us what he could and we hope he makes a speedy recovery,” said Curry, who scored a game-high 31 points.
“He sacrificed his body for us and I just feel bad for him.”