* Tonight on ABC: Game 3, Raptors vs. Warriors (9 ET)
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors will be of divided attention here in the next few days. They’ll be occupied by Game 3 of The Finals … and Game 1 of Kevin Durant’s rehabilitation.
The two go hand-in-hand, actually, and hold equal importance. With untimely injuries threatening to delay the Warriors’ third straight title or downright prevent it from happening, the club teeters on edge, unsure whether its next step will be on the gas pedal or a banana peel.
Klay Thompson is iffy for Wednesday because of a gimpy hamstring that cut short his floor time in Game 2, which the Warriors managed to win anyway. He did some light shooting on the eve of Game 3 against the Raptors and, Klay being Klay, counted himself in after three days’ rest. But it’s not really up to him, is it? The Warriors' medical staff will make the ruling on a tendon that’s moody and doesn’t always cooperate with the human attached to it. This all depends on what side of the bed the hamstring lands on Wednesday morning.
Kevon Looney, the fast-developing big man who has been a pleasant playoff surprise, is done for the summer with a cartilage fracture in his collarbone area. At least in this case, his loss is minimized by the re-emergence of DeMarcus Cousins, back from two months off with a bum quad muscle and feeling frisky about it and his encouraging effort in Game 2.
OK, now here’s the elephant in the emergency room: What does the future of The Finals hold for Durant, MIA for roughly a month now, who has been ruled out for Wednesday?
Durant didn’t practice with the team Tuesday morning, but he did go through an individual workout that afternoon. There is no scheduled team practice on Thursday, the only off-day between Games 3 and 4 at Oracle Arena. Yet all signs point to Durant putting his body through a workout/practice/scrimmage at some point between now and Friday’s Game 4 because coach Steve Kerr said the former MVP is “ramping up” his workouts.
It’s safe to say the Warriors will be interested spectators for that one, biting their fingernails to the knuckle, although Kerr indicated Durant’s availability for The Finals is more “when” than “if.” That means Durant has given them some reason to feel optimistic about Friday if not Game 5 in Toronto.
“Klay and Kevin, we’re very hopeful we’re going to get them back out there,” Kerr said.
In a worst-case scenario, the Warriors in Game 3 would be without two players averaging more than 50 points combined in the postseason, and their scoring and defensive presence is impossible to replace. That would put them in a tough spot, needing to rely on replacements who aren’t familiar with, or quite capable of, carrying that amount of minutes with impact.
Yes, it’s true the Warriors finished Game 2 without either player and managed to win. Yet, no disrespect to the champs, that’s a big chore to do for four full quarters and against a solid defensive team like the Raptors.
Even if Thompson plays, will he be healthy enough to supply the energy and flexibility needed to perform his usual top-notch defense and running through screens for his jumper?
“If I can just be out there even at 80 percent, I still think I can be very effective,” Thompson said. “From the progress I've made these last two days, I'm very encouraged that I'll be able to go out there. As long as nothing is torn or really injured, I'm not too fearful of it because, knock on wood, I've been very blessed with not very many traumatic injuries in my career. I don't think this one is of greatest concern. It's just the day and age we live in where little things can just grow to be big problems, but I don't think this will be one of them.”
How would a diminished or missing Thompson affect the Warriors? Basically, Stephen Curry could not afford to be anything less than MVP-ish. He’d see double-and triple-teams thrown his way by the Raptors, causing him to take tougher shots than normal. In that situation, as the Warriors’ only volume scorer and shooter, Curry could feel overwhelmed and force the issue.
Cousins would be required to ratchet up his shooting and intensity on offense, but will he stay clear of foul trouble, which would put a crimp in his playing time?
Finally, the Warriors would lean more on Shaun Livingston, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Quinn Cook than normal. Cook made a pair of important shots in Game 2 after Thompson limped off and could be an X-factor (or at least he’d need to be for Golden State’s sake).
“Our team is very adaptable,” Kerr said. “We have a lot of versatility. What it requires is bench players being ready to step up, like they always are, and guys just playing hard and playing together. I think you have to be fearless, too, which our team is. You can't worry about anything. You just go out there and play and compete and let it fly and whatever happens, happens.”
And then there’s Toronto. A weakened or missing Thompson would be an opportunity they simply couldn’t afford to blow. Rarely does a gift like this present itself in The Finals and the Raptors must seize it if it happens.
In such a situation, the Raptors would be wise to occupy Curry and dare others to produce for four quarters. If Thompson plays, they’d be best to take advantage by running him ragged through screens on defense, putting that hamstring to the test. That would be one less player with high defensive credentials for Kawhi Leonard to deal with.
Assuming that scoring will be an issue for the Warriors, the Raptors must get a bounce-back game from Pascal Siakam (who regressed from 32 points to 12) and more punch from Kyle Lowry (six baskets total for the series) to make it tough if not impossible for the Warriors to keep up.
If the Raptors have any shot at winning this title, they must win at least one game at Oracle, and from a practical standpoint, Game 3 is the most inviting. They may never see the Warriors this vulnerable, this ripe for the taking again.
“I think we come into a sense of urgency, period,” said Lowry, “no matter the situation. We want to be the first to four, and every game is an urgent game. You're in the NBA Finals, so it doesn't matter. They still have professional basketball players down there, and they're really talented basketball players. So you still got to be ready to go out there and play your butt off and play hard.”
The Warriors do not feel the same level of urgency because they’re not down 0-2, and the next two games are at home, and the core group is championship tested. As they demonstrated in Game 2, they don’t get rattled by tense championship games, even with Thompson and Durant off the floor.
They also know, or at least feel strongly, that Thompson and Durant will suit up soon.
“If there’s pain, it will be a no-go (for Game 3) because of the position we’re in,” Thompson said. “This could be a longer series, so there's no point in trying to go out there and re-aggravate it and potentially keep myself out of the whole entire Finals instead of just one game.”
The Warriors might not get much sympathy from a basketball world that perhaps feel the champs are finally getting their just due. Everyone saw them play the 2015 Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers without Kevin Love and all but one game without Kyrie Irving. In the 2017 Western Conference finals, Leonard, then with the San Antonio Spurs, went down after lighting it up for most of Game 1. And how can anyone forget Chris Paul missing the Houston Rockets' final two games of the 2018 West finals?
Not saying those were the reasons for three championships in four years; still, all of those misfortunes suffered by others favored the Warriors.
But who’s keeping score?
“There's a certain amount of luck involved with this, and we know that,” Kerr said. “We have been on both sides of that. Some of our opponents have suffered injuries. We have suffered injuries. It's just part of the deal. You just keep pushing forward.”
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