Kevin Durant is back. After Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters Monday morning that Durant, who has been out since May 8 with a right calf strain, would be a game-time decision tonight for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, multiple reports emerged that he would indeed play.
Golden State's Kevin Durant plans to play in Game 5 tonight, league source tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 10, 2019
The news comes a day after Durant practiced with the Warriors for the first time since suffering the injury in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets.
His return can’t come soon enough as his Warriors team is facing elimination, trailing the Toronto Raptors 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Originally pegged as -286 favorites to win a third straight championship, the Warriors are now +370 underdogs to three-peat.
Oddsmakers believe Durant will return tonight, as the latest point spreads with most bookmakers has shrunk from 3.5 points to 1.5 points in Toronto’s favor.
Would a Durant Return even Matter?
Without question, a Durant return makes the Warriors better. Kerr’s group is also dealing with banged up bodies in Klay Thompson (hamstring) and Kevin Looney (chest), which in addition to losing talented players has taken a toll on the team’s depth.
Durant hasn’t played in more than a month and, if he plays, could show rust at a time when the Warriors have no room for error. They’re about to face a Raptors team that’s won an NBA-best 41 home games this season and seems to have an answer for everything Golden State has thrown at them.
But oddsmakers clearly don’t believe Durant’s return means the Warriors can win three straight against a rolling Toronto team. The Raptors are -590 to win the series while the Warriors are +425 to pull off an upset in the latest NBA Futures odds.
In order to do that, they’ll need to accomplish something no team in NBA history has. The 3-1 comeback is never easy, and no team that has trailed 3-1 after losing Games 3 and 4 at home has ever come back to win three straight games.
No team that's gone up 3-1 in a series by winning both road games has ever gone on to lose a 2-2-1-1-1 series (30-0) https://t.co/sig95Yy9WO— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) June 8, 2019
At this point, even if Durant returns it might be too little, too late for the two-time defending champions.
Durant’s Calf Improving
There were reports early in the NBA Finals that Durant was targeting a return near the midway point of the series. That didn’t happen in Game 3, and Kerr told reporters prior to Game 4 that Durant had been unable to practice with the team, something they had hoped would have happened.
Though it wasn’t considered a setback, there’s no question Durant is behind schedule at the most critical of times for the shorthanded Warriors.
Kerr said on Sunday that in addition to practicing, Durant will also do some on-court work with younger players to test the calf in live action.
It’s obviously a step in the right direction for Durant, who will do more on the floor than he’s done in the past since suffering the injury. This is also the first time in the series that Kerr hasn’t ruled out the two-time reigning Finals MVP the day before the game.
Teammates Unhappy With Durant?
As if Durant’s absence wasn’t hurting the Warriors enough on the court, it’s apparently causing some turmoil in the locker room, too. The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported on Sunday that Durant’s teammates are frustrated he hasn’t returned yet.
The decision isn’t Durant’s to make – head trainer Rick Celebrini makes that call – but teammates were hoping he’d put up more of a fight to play, like Thompson did prior to Game 3. The Warriors are experienced and mature enough to not let it affect their play, but headlines like these can’t help a team reeling without their best player.