TORONTO: When Golden State star Kevin Durant went down 12 minutes into his long-awaited comeback game Monday in the NBA Finals, players on both sides were stunned.
Durant, the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, suffered a right Achilles tendon injury in the Warriors’ 106-105 victory over Toronto, trimming the Raptors’ lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
“It was a real shock when he went down,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “There was just a couple minutes where it all seemed so eerie and strange and it took maybe a little bit for both teams to collect themselves.”
Durant, who missed the past month with a right calf injury, planted his foot, pulled up and sat down on the floor. He was helped to the locker room and left the arena on crutches.
“I just tried to refocus, but that was very deflating,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “It obviously inspires you to play harder knowing your best player can’t be out there.
“You think of him every time you dive for a loose ball or go for a rebound, because I know him and I know how bad he wants to be out there. That’s why he was out there. It sucks.
“He’s a warrior. He sacrificed his health for us. For him to put his health on the line, to come back and compete at the highest level, we miss him. That’s our brother. It’s hard to even celebrate this win.”
Raptors coach Nick Nurse was just as stunned after Durant opened 3-of-3 from 3-point range and finished with 11 points.
“When anybody goes down you’re saddened by it, but when one of the great players like that goes down, it’s almost shocking,” Nurse said. “Some of the guys on our bench were really shook up.
“It’s always a little eerie feeling for everybody when something like that happens on a big stage like this.”
As Toronto guard Kyle Lowry put it: “In this league we’re all brothers. And it’s a small brotherhood. You never want to see a competitor like him go down.”
Warriors general manager Bob Myers said multiple doctors approved Durant to play.
“I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame but I understand this world and if you have to, you can blame me,” Myers said.
“People that questioned whether he wanted to get back to this team were wrong. He’s a good teammate. He’s a good person. It’s not fair.”
Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala helped Durant back to the locker room, saying people don’t appreciate the bond among the players.
“It’s more than basketball. But no one wants to understand that part. They only care about the game,” Iguodala said.
“We always talk about how this team is with one another, but people still don’t really grasp what we’re talking about. When we say this is like a real brotherhood, people have no clue what goes into that and how we feel about each other.”
Durant can count on his teammates to be there for him, Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.
“He gave us what he had, he went out there and sacrificed his body,” Curry said. “I just feel so bad for him. Nobody should have to go through something like that. He’s going to go through some challenges through this process, however long it takes, but we’re going to be there for him.”
Toronto’s Fred VanVleet respected Durant’s determination to try and play in a must-win game for Golden State.
“I know we’re opponents and competing as hard as we possibly can, but you never want to see anyone get injured,” VanVleet said. “He put his body on the line for those guys and that franchise. We feel for him. It’s very unfortunate. It sucks.”
No one knows that like Toronto star Kawhi Leonard, who missed most of last season with an injury.
“It’s devastating,” Leonard said. “You see him try to come out and push himself. I feel bad for him. I’m pretty sure he’s going to attack each day and get better and come back strong.”