How the Warriors Survived Game 5 of the N.B.A. Finals
TORONTO — A script-defying N.B.A. finals continued Monday night when the Golden State Warriors welcomed Kevin Durant back from a monthlong injury absence, watched in horror as Durant reinjured himself after a storybook start — and then still managed to keep these N.B.A. finals going.
Durant lasted only 12 minutes in his comeback before reinjuring his lower right leg, but the Warriors managed to pull themselves together after his emotional departure and dig out a 106-105 victory over the Toronto Raptors in Game 5. That narrowed Toronto’s series lead to three games to two and prevented the Raptors from securing the first championship in the franchise’s 24-year history.
Kawhi Leonard scored 10 of his 26 points in a stunning fourth-quarter flurry that erased the last of Golden State’s 14-point lead and appeared to swipe the momentum from the Warriors. But late 3-pointers from Stephen Curry (31 points in the game) and Klay Thompson (26 points) and a huge defensive stop on Toronto’s final possession — when Draymond Green blocked Kyle Lowry’s corner 3-point attempt — enabled Golden State to escape with an improbable victory.
Yet there was grave concern about Durant’s status. He left the arena on crutches and with his right foot in a walking boot in the third quarter, and will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Tuesday — less than three weeks before he is expected to hit the marketplace as one of the most coveted free agents in league history.
Fighting back tears, Bob Myers, the general manager of the Warriors, said after the game that Durant had sustained an injury to his Achilles’ tendon rather than reinjuring his calf. The extent of the damage will not be known until his M.R.I. on Tuesday, but if the tendon is ruptured Durant could miss much of the 2019-20 season.
“I know Kevin takes a lot of hits sometimes, but he just wants to play basketball, and right now he can’t,” Myers said.
Asked after the game to describe his range of emotions, Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said he couldn’t and alluded to Durant’s injury.
“I just told the team I didn’t know what to say,” Kerr said. “It’s a bizarre feeling we all have right now. It’s an incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time.”
Sidelined since May 8 by a strained right calf he sustained in Golden State’s second-round series against the Houston Rockets, Durant duly made his first two 3-pointers and scored 11 points in the opening quarter. Then his night — and presumably his season — ended almost as quickly as it started. Durant’s right leg buckled just over two minutes into the second quarter as he attacked Serge Ibaka on the dribble from beyond the 3-point line on the right wing.
Durant simply gave up his dribble when he felt the pain and quickly fell to the floor, clutching his lower right leg. He was helped all the way to the locker room by his teammates Curry and Andre Iguodala, with Raptors players such as Ibaka and Lowry so shaken by the incident that they motioned to the Scotiabank Arena crowd not to cheer after Durant went down.
The Warriors decided on Monday to clear Durant to play Game 5. The Warriors had won their first five games after his injury before losing three of the first four in this series with Toronto to fall into a deficit that has historically been fatal in the finals.
In 34 previous instances in the best-of-seven finals, teams that took a three games-to-one lead won 33 times — with Golden State being the lone exception, losing to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
Monday’s win will take the series back to Oakland, Calif., for Thursday night’s Game 6. It remains to be seen how much Golden State will have left, both physically and emotionally, after the effort expended to extend the series in the wake of losing Durant again.
The Warriors also had to play much of the second half without the reserve center Kevon Looney, who returned to the lineup in Game 4 to try to play through a chest injury but was clearly laboring in Game 5.
Some of the Raptors’ most rabid fans began camping out for access to the watch party space adjacent to the arena, known as Jurassic Park, on Sunday morning — more than 24 hours before Monday’s tipoff. But the nationwide celebration that awaited the Raptors — had they won Game 5 and finished the series off on home soil — has been put on hold.
The New York Times reported last week that the Warriors entered the finals loosely targeting Game 5 as the earliest Durant could play. Media reports that a comeback was possible in Game 3 or Game 4 appeared to spawn some frustration within team circles when it didn’t happen, as Kerr acknowledged at Monday morning’s shootaround. But Durant showed team officials and Golden State’s medical staff enough in Sunday’s practice and on Monday to gain clearance to play.
The manner in which Durant went down will undoubtedly raise questions about whether he was rushed back too soon in response to the calls, internal and external, for him to try to play through an injury given the stakes on the game’s biggest stage.