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Agonizing. Excruciating. Painful. A few words that describe the emotions felt around the NBA when arguably the greatest player in the game went down with an apparent achilles injury in the second quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
That player being Kevin Durant, who had no business on the court, risked it all due to a world of scrutiny and possible guilt of seeing his brothers struggle without his presence on the court.
From the get-go, his impact was felt. The Warriors started the game with a barrage of 3-pointers due to extra floor spacing and knowing when in doubt, their big brother could do things no other Warrior could with his exceptional skill set. In sheer Durant fashion, he calmly stepped into a 26-foot 3-pointer and splashed it for his first points of the Finals just 1:41 into the start of the game. Just 0:42 later, he did it again, and the fans at the Scotiabank Arena grew leery as to what they could expect from the 7-foot unicorn freak.
However, it was evident clearly from the outset, Durant was not fully 100 percent. A sure defender in his own right, he did not display the requisite strength to stay in front of players he has shown over the years to make it more difficult to score. After exiting for a breather with 5:50 remaining in the first quarter, he returned two minutes later after a Toronto Raptors full timeout.
Then, the signs started to show more.
Early in the second quarter, Durant, moving more gingerly, pulls up for a 20-foot shot and air balls it as badly as you could imagine. For a player of his caliber, this just does not happen.
And then it happened.
After a Kyle Lowry made basket, Durant received the inbound pass and was guarded full court by Raptors defender, Paskal Siakam. After a high screen from Andrew Bogut, the switch was made, which now matched him against his former teammate, Serge Ibaka. Durant took two hard dribbles to the right after the switch, crossed over between his legs, then he lost the ball, and for all intense and purposes, quite possibly some of his career.
The scene thereafter was disturbing as Raptors fans, who were obviously excited about the steal by Ibaka, appeared to take joy in seeing Durant go down in pain. Upon seeing this, Lowry, Ibaka, and other Raptors players immediately motioned to the crowd that their antics were not appreciated and more than unbecoming of what they stand for as human beings, let alone basketball players.
While the basketball gods surely took into consideration the absolutely disgusting behavior of those fans, it’s time for the tables to turn on the Warriors.
So many questions remain unanswered that someone must answer for immediately. What was Durant doing out there in the first place? Who cleared him? Why? Who was going to gain from this? How will this affect Durant moving forward? Will he ever be the same? That last one is the heart breaker.
The first thought is to question the medical staff. A team of highly trained professionals cleared Durant to compete in quite possibly the most intense portion of the season on a lower leg (achilles of course) that was literally hanging on by a thread. Was there pressure from executives to rush Durant back so the Warriors could complete the first 3-peat in franchise history on their way to their new arena?
Warriors President of Basketball Operations, Bob Myers, offered his version of a mea culpa during an impromptu press conference after the Warriors 106-105 victory over the Raptors. While speaking to the media, he had contrition in his voice, and possibly some guilt knowing he had the final decision to save Durant from himself and not risk his career on a game that was virtually meaningless in the grand scheme of things. While speaking on Durant he had this to say:
“It’s an achilles injury. I don’t know the extent of it, he’ll have an MRI tomorrow. Prior to coming back, he went through four weeks with our medical team, and it was thorough, it was experts, and multiple MRI’s and multiple doctors. We felt good about the process. He was cleared to play tonight. That was a collaborative decision. I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame, but I understand this world, and if you have to, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations department.”
All of this comes after a few days of terrible PR after minority owner Mark Stevens assaulted Lowry during Game 3 at Oracle Arena. The Warriors immediately put out a press release stating Stevens would be suspended for the remaining games of the Finals, which was two. It is plausible to believe they needed something to help stave off the multitude of backlash coming at them where many believe harsher repercussions should have been enforced — such as losing his ownership stake — but they opted for a league punishment of $500,000 and a one-year ban.
Whatever the ultimate reason, Durant did not deserve this. The ridicule he has received for joining the Warriors, whether just or not, was enough for him to endure along with the championships he helped deliver in the process. Putting him on the floor in the heat of battle without proper time to heal and recover is an indictment on the Warriors organization, and them winning another title in spite of it would be a stain on the entire NBA.
I don’t blame the players, as Stephen Curry and others have done everything asked of them and done so with class and professionalism, which is a large part for why they are champions. But for this year, and for the years to come, it’s time for the Warriors to fade to black — they must pay for the sins caused in allowing this to happen to Durant.