In­side the War­riors’ emo­tional night pro­cess­ing Du­rant’s in­jury

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Mark Me­d­ina

TORONTO — The tears filled their eyes.

Kevin Du­rant be­came emo­tional when he felt pain in what the team later fears to be a torn right Achilles ten­don. And when he walked out of the arena with crutches and a walking boot. And when he pro­cessed the War­riors’ 106105 win over the Toronto Rap­tors in Game 5 of the NBA Fi­nals on Mon­day, an out­come that closed the series to 3-2 and en­sured a Game 6 in what will be the fi­nal game at Or­a­cle Arena on Thurs­day.

Du­rant’s team­mates be­came emo­tional as they helped him off the court. And when they chan­neled their frus­tra­tion and con­cern to­ward their play. And when they spoke about their All-Star team­mate in glow­ing terms for rea­sons be­sides help­ing them win two con­sec­u­tive NBA ti­tles and re­turn­ing from a right calf in­jury in hopes of sal­vaging the Fi­nals.

“Ev­ery­body gets so wrapped up in chas­ing cham­pi­onships and the great­ness that you see on the floor,” Stephen Curry said. “But life is more im­por­tant in terms of car­ing about an in­di­vid­ual and what they’re go­ing through on a daily ba­sis.”

War­riors coach Steve Kerr be­came emo­tional when he ad­dressed his team fol­low­ing the win. And when he pro­cessed Du­rant’s de­bil­i­tat­ing in­jury that will only be con­firmed with an MRI sched­uled some­time on Tues­day. And when he saw Du­rant re­hab his right calf in­jury for more than a month.

“I just told the team I didn’t know what to say,” Kerr said. “On the one hand, I’m so proud of them, just the amaz­ing heart and grit that they showed. And on the other, I’m just dev­as­tated for Kevin. So it’s a bizarre feel­ing that we all have right now. An in­cred­i­ble win and a hor­ri­ble loss at the same time.”

Fi­nally, War­riors gen­eral man­ager Bob My­ers be­came emo­tional when he walked with Du­rant out of the arena. And when his eyes wa­tered when he sat at the podium. And when he pro­cessed any sug­ges­tion that Du­rant’s pro­longed in­jury partly re­flected any dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the team or any want to pre­serve his value when he plans to be­come an un­re­stricted free agent in less than a month.

“Kevin Du­rant loves to play bas­ket­ball, and the peo­ple that ques­tioned whether he wanted to get back to this team were wrong,” My­ers said through tear­ful eyes and a quiv­er­ing voice. “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.”

Be­fore he could be asked, My­ers strongly de­fended the train­ing staff ’s de­ci­sion to clear Du­rant and for Kerr to play him. My­ers de­scribed the process as “thor­ough,” say­ing it en­tailed Du­rant re­ceiv­ing “mul­ti­ple MRI’s” and vis­it­ing “mul­ti­ple doc­tors” af­ter strain­ing his right calf against Hous­ton in the play­offs May 8. The War­riors re­mained pa­tient as Du­rant missed 14 play­off games. They also re­quired Du­rant to com­plete a full prac­tice be­fore play­ing, some­thing he had not done un­til Sun­day.

“That was a col­lab­o­ra­tive de­ci­sion,” My­ers said. “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.”

Why would My­ers con­sider him­self blame­wor­thy?

“I don’t think there’s any­body to blame, but I get it,” My­ers said. “That stuff hap­pens. I hope no­body does. I don’t think it should land on any­body. But if you feel like you need to...”

My­ers then stopped as his voice trailed off. In re­al­ity, the War­riors do not blame My­ers. In­stead, they re­spected My­ers for speak­ing so thought­fully about Du­rant and for shoul­der­ing blame when they did not feel it was nec­es­sary. In­ter­nally, the War­riors do not blame the train­ing staff ei­ther.

The War­riors may have ini­tially con­sid­ered Du­rant’s calf in­jury to be “mild.” Four days be­fore the NBA Fi­nals started, though, the War­riors’ train­ing staff de­ter­mined Du­rant was still not ready for con­tact drills. The War­riors main­tained op­ti­mism Du­rant would even­tu­ally play. Dr. Rick Cele­brini, the War­riors’ direc­tor of sports medicine and per­for­mance, had told Kerr that Du­rant’s re­hab “could be a cou­ple of weeks or a cou­ple of months.”

The War­riors had ex­er­cised cau­tion with other in­juries, too.

They sat Klay Thomp­son in Game 3 be­cause of a tight ham­string be­fore clear­ing him for Game 4. They sat War­riors for­ward Kevon Looney in Game 3 af­ter he suf­fered a frac­ture around his chest and ribs. Af­ter ini­tially rul­ing Looney out in­def­i­nitely, the War­riors re­ceived other opin­ions that said he could play so long as he could han­dle the pain. He re­turned in Game 4 only to ag­gra­vate the in­jury in Game 5.

The War­riors were pa­tient with DeMar­cus Cousins, who re­turned from a left Achilles ten­don al­most a year af­ter the in­jury. The War­riors ini­tially side­lined him in­def­i­nitely af­ter tear­ing a left quad mus­cle in Game 2 of the War­riors’ first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Clip­pers. They then ac­com­mo­dated Cousins’ re­turn for the NBA Fi­nals. They re­fused to al­low Du­rant to re­turn ear­lier in the Fi­nals even when fac­ing a 2-1 series deficit.

“The peo­ple that worked with him and cleared him are good peo­ple,” My­ers said. “They’re good peo­ple.”

Af­ter all, Hall of Fame point guard and War­riors con­sul­tant Steve Nash strongly cred­ited Cele­brini for ex­tend­ing his 19-year NBA ca­reer af­ter deal­ing with chronic back is­sues. Dur­ing his first year with the War­riors, they have cred­ited Cele­brini for his thor­ough­ness, pa­tience and col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach. Be­fore his in­jury, Du­rant looked spry and nor­mal en route to 11 points on 3-of-5 shoot­ing in 12 min­utes. Hence, the War­riors do not see Du­rant’s lat­est in­jury re­lated.

“The ini­tial in­jury was a calf in­jury. This is not a calf in­jury,” My­ers said. “I’m not a doc­tor, I don’t know how those are re­lated or not, but it’s a dif­fer­ent in­jury.”

None­the­less, Du­rant’s lat­est in­jury sparked re­minders of his pre­vi­ous ailment. Both were non-con­tact in­juries. Both tested the War­riors’ re­solve in a piv­otal play­off game. Both yielded un­cer­tainty about his fu­ture.

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