Game 5 of the NBA Finals was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, an Oscar-worthy motion picture, an Emmy-earning TV show and a Tony Award-winning performance all wrapped into one.
The game featured tragedy and triumph. There were heroes and villains. Viewers witnessed outstanding plays as well as head-scratching decisions.
With a championship on the line, many of the NBA’s biggest stars performed in stellar fashion. Kawhi Leonard contributed 26 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists, including a 12-point fourth quarter eruption that nearly iced the game.
The Splash Brothers responded in kind. Steph Curry scored 31 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Klay Thompson accumulated 26 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. All three superstars made big shots in clutch situations.
Under normal circumstances, we’d all be debating critical plays and decisions. There would be a hearty debate about Nick Nurse’s ill-advised double timeouts. Fans would forever debate the offensive goaltending call on DeMarcus Cousins. Pundits would question Steve Kerr’s rationale on allowing Cousins to futilely switch onto smaller, faster players.
Unfortunately, these aren’t normal circumstances.
After missing more than a month with a strained calf (that many observers believed was an Achilles injury), Durant returned to action on Monday night. The Warriors were down 3-1. Another loss would’ve given Golden State a stunning defeat. Looming even larger is Durant’s option to become a free agent at season’s end. A loss could potentially mean an end of the Dubs’ dynasty.
So Durant worked overtime to recover from his calf strain. Monday night, he was back on the court. He was back in the starting lineup – back in the spotlight that he equally loves and loathes.
Despite the long layoff, Durant was in vintage form. He knocked down three consecutive three pointers in the first quarter. His Warriors teammates knocked down shots too. The Warriors scrambled on defense.
The potential headlines could’ve written themselves. “KD saves the Warriors!” Unfortunately, the Warriors couldn’t save “KD.”
Instead of discussing his greatness, or the game’s greatness, we’re left to talk about the Achilles tear heard around the world.
Durant, arguably the best basketball player on the planet, rolled the dice on his health and his future in the hopes of attaining another championship ring. While the Warriors may have won the game, the victory came at a massive cost.
By returning to the court before he had fully recovered, Durant showed heart, dedication, loyalty and conviction. Those are all things that fans have foolishly questioned since he departed the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors in the summer of 2016.
Forget the rumors that he wanted out or that he might “pull a Kawhi” and sit out until next season. Durant was fighting to contribute the best way he knows how – by getting buckets. If an athlete is ever going to push their body to the limits, fighting for a championship seems like the right time. Only it wasn’t.
Durant’s body wasn’t ready for a comeback. Early in the second quarter, he made a crossover move that he’s likely made hundreds of times over the season. Yet this time, when he took a step with his injured right leg, it gave way. He hobbled back in obvious pain before collapsing to the ground.
It was one of those moments that didn’t need an explanation or an official report. He knew. His teammates knew. The fans knew. We all knew.
That made the Raptors fans’ reaction all the more disgusting. All throughout the Finals, Raptors fans have been heralded as some of the best fans in basketball. The Jimmy Kimmel Show did a spot where they asked Toronto residents to trash talk the Warriors. The responses were full of gee-golly, wholesome goodness.
“We don’t do that here,” one man replied.
“No, no, no,” responded another man. “We are polite. We are Canadians.”
Unfortunately the KDA (Kevin Durant Achilles) test determined that that was a lie. Many Raptors fans in attendance cheered, laughed and taunted the fallen player until Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and other Raptors players scolded them for it. By the time Durant was helped off the court, he received a standing ovation from the fans. It may have been too late.
Leonard, who will be a free agent this offseason, was not amused. You have to wonder if that dark moment will be filed somewhere in the back of his head whenever he sits down to decided where to continue his career.
That moment may have also eroded much of the fuzzy feelings and goodwill towards the underdog Toronto fans. While is certainly a healthy collection of jerks in every sports area, regardless of city, state, country or province, the crowd jeering was simply not a good look for an otherwise fantastic city.
This single game may have managed to encapsulate the best and worst in professional sports. It is very likely that the reason Durant returned in the first place was due to his desire to be loved, respected and revered by basketball fans.
We know that Durant hears the criticism. He sees (and often responds to) the tweets. He reads the critical articles and comments. His desire to silence the critics likely played a role to the unfortunate incident. The Warriors’ desire for a championship, and the uncertainty of his future with the franchise, certainly clouded its judgment on allowing him to suit up.
Fortunately for Durant, the injury should not affect his earnings. Unlike Cousins, who was forced to take short money after his Achilles injury, Durant should still be able to command a sizable contract. He could opt-in to his last year with the Warriors and rehab on their dime. Plenty of other teams would be willing to write off next season, even with a max contract, to sign him to a long-term deal.
Hopefully though, the ridiculous questions about his heart will cease. Those who publicly question him for going to Golden State should recognize that he literally sacrificed his right Achilles in order to give his team a chance at a championship.
Considering the fact that the Warriors escaped with a 106-105 victory Monday night, he helped give them a chance. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with it.
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