Aches and pains nabbing Golden State's spotlight in Finals

NBA.com Global on Jun 08, 2019 06:46 AM
Aches and pains nabbing Golden State's spotlight in Finals
Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers, left, speaks with Klay Thompson during practice for the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

OAKLAND, Calif. – Some of the greatest or, at least, most memorable moments in the history of The Finals have been defined by injuries.

Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kevin McHale, Isiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and others all had championship trajectories altered by Finals injuries. Then there was Willis Reed, perhaps the granddaddy of them all, who limped out and inspired the Knicks in the 1970 Finals.

Measured against such a rich, regrettable tradition of contusions, sprains and stars in street clothes, these Finals will claim their rightful spot. Injuries have dominated the narrative from Toronto to California, with the plot thickened now by recoveries both imminent and undetermined.

Golden State guard Klay Thompson (hamstring) will play in Game 4, returning from a costly one-game absence. But forward Kevin Durant (calf strain) will not, despite speculation fueled by none other than coach Steve Kerr. The two-time Finals MVP has been dialing up his individual work but was not cleared to scrimmage 3-on-3 by Thursday (Friday, PHL time).

Meanwhile, big man Kevon Looney (costal cartilage fracture) might not be done for in this series after all. Thompson’s return was the most foreseeable, given the shooting guard’s durability and stubbornness against missing games. He was straining at Kerr’s and the medical staff’s leash Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time), even as he understood their safe-rather-than-sorry approach.

“It just sucks missing a Finals game,” Thompson said. “It's the NBA Finals and this is what we work our whole lives for. But I would rather miss one game than an entire series. So, it wasn't the end of the world.”

Thompson, who had played in 120 consecutive playoff games prior to skipping Game 3, sat and watched from the Warriors’ bench as Toronto won at Oracle Arena to take its 2-1 lead. The experience made him hungrier still to return to the fray.

“I think I can impact Game 4 by doing what I do -- that’s getting buckets and getting stops,” said Thompson, who is averaging 23 points per game in The Finals and is one of Golden State’s best defensive players.

“Just being able to guard their guards out there. They looked comfortable yesterday,” Thompson said. “They were playing in great rhythm. So it makes you mad. You want to get out there and stop them.”

Durant presumably wants to get out there and score, at least. He has not played since May 8 (May 9, PHL tie) and missing a month of the postseason has some fans impatient for Durant’s return (and others convinced he won’t return at all).

Kerr acknowledged Thursday (Friday, PHL time) he might have contributed to the confusion, mistakenly fast-tracking Durant’s recovery timeline when he spoke to reporters before Game 3.

“There was no setback,” Kerr said. “I was hoping that today would be the day when he could get out on the floor. It's not going to be today. It's going to be probably tomorrow, the following day, the next couple of days. So the hope would be that he could still make it back at the end of the series.”

Game 5 is Monday (next Tuesday, PHL time) at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, and Game 6, if needed is Thursday at Oracle (next Friday, PHL time).

Kerr said he “probably misspoke” when he suggested Durant might play Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “I'm getting asked a million questions every day,” Kerr said, “and so sometimes I might answer something that doesn't jibe perfectly with what the training staff saw that morning.”

Looney? The lanky and mobile 6'9" big man averaged 10 ppg and shot 78.3 percent in the Western Conference finals. He had nine points in Game 1 of The Finals before suffering the non-displaced fracture to his upper chest in Game 2. Golden State misses his defensive versatility and his offense near the rim.

But Kerr said his initial comments to reporters, based on views Looney was done till next season, needed clarification. “We're gathering information, a second-opinion type thing, and so it's sort of open,” Kerr said. “It's an open question. We are looking at all of our options and his options.”

The Warriors can maintain stiff upper lips and repeat the NBA’s “next man up” mantra. In truth, though, certain players stepping up or going down matter more than others.

Thompson is seen as a scorer Toronto must contain and a defender who can contain one or more Raptors. The Warriors are 11-3 since 2014-15 when Thompson returns from a layoff.

“Adding Klay back to the fold is always going to make a difference,” forward Draymond Green said, “the way Klay pressures the ball, the way he flies around on the defensive end.”

Said Stephen Curry, whose 47 points in Game 3 wound up almost like a rope-a-dope tactic by Toronto: “People fall in love with his shooting and how hot he can get on the offensive end, but the way that our team plays defensively and the chemistry that we have and the experience. He’s right at the forefront of that.”

While it’s possible that Durant still might come limping through a tunnel to seize this championship series, he remains a long shot until he does it. None of the Warriors who talked about him Thursday anticipates a lengthy re-introduction.

Until then, this is a team of changing roles and jumbled rotations. Kerr has used 10 different starting lineups in this postseason, the most since the league began tracking that in 1971.

“It's tough from a rotational standpoint,” veteran Shaun Livingston said, “Guys coming in at different times.  Yeah, it definitely throws a kink in it.”

Said Curry: “It's a tough adjustment when guys who haven't been in that position consistently and in these type of moments are thrown into his minutes.”

The Raptors, having already swiped back homecourt advantage, have the chance to grab a commanding 3-1 series lead. That would make Game 4 potentially the last one Golden State plays at its boisterous old barn before moving into Chase Center in San Francisco next season.

Certainly, Kerr would prefer his “A team” get most of the playing time. But he has embraced a more relaxed view of the challenges thrown Golden State’s way.

“It just feels like business as usual, honestly,” he said. “I hope that doesn't sound arrogant, but the benefit of having been through five years of this is we have literally seen everything.

“We have lost a 3-1 [Finals] lead in a heartbreaking fashion. We have come back from 3-1 down. We have had to win a Game 7 on the road. We have been without Steph Curry for a series. We have been without Kevin Durant. We were without Klay [Wednesday.] Our opponents have been without key players.

“So I think the key is, and our guys know this because they have been through it before, you just zero in on the next game. You make your adjustments and you win the next game, and all of a sudden everything shifts and the whole narrative changes.”

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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