The Impact of Kevin Durant’s Injury

The Impact of Kevin Durant’s Injury

By: Caleb J. Duncan

When Chris Paul injured his hamstring during game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in 2018 many believed Houston’s chances of moving on to the Finals were slim to none. Missing 27 consecutive 3-pointers didn’t help Houston in game 7 either. A common voiced belief is that with a healthy Chris Paul the Rockets had a legitimate chance to beat the Warriors and advance to the NBA Finals.

It’s one year later and the NBA is experiencing a severe case of déjà vu.

In Wednesday’s game 5 at Oracle Arena, Kevin Durant suffered a non-contact injury to his lower leg and was forced to leave the game before the end of the 3rd quarter.

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The Warriors eventually secured the win after an intense comeback from Houston who were down by as much as 20 points, but it’s difficult to overlook just how big of a problem the injury to Kevin Durant is for Golden State.

Any kind of injury to a star player is bad for a team, but Kevin Durant’s unicorn status makes the injury much worse for a team trying to win the NBA Championship for the 3rd time in a row. While the official diagnosis is a right calf strain there were many, like Stephen A. Smith, who believed the injury to be much worse than a simple strain.

Reggie Miller was quick to call out the similarity between Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant when Bryant tore his Achilles while driving in for a layup several years ago. Durant’s injury is not only going to impact the rest of this series but potentially the makeup of the Warriors lineup moving forward.

Durant’s low-level calf sprain means he has a decent chance to return at some point during the playoffs. However, the injury is to his leg and if Durant and the medical staff are not overly cautious then there is always a risk of making the strain worse. Durant’s chances of facing off against Houston again this season are essentially zero, but if he could make it back for the finals (assuming Golden State makes it that far without him) then the injury will prove to be far less a factor than currently anticipated. Anything above a lower level strain and the timetable becomes murkier.

The problem is that Golden State has always been coy when it comes to providing the media information on a player’s injury. Both Klay Thompson and Steph Curry rolled their ankles and there was legitimate doubt as to whether both would be available for game 1. They played in game 1 and every game since then. They Warriors staff has a history of trying to downplay the severity of injuries to their players so it’s hard not to question if that is the case with Durant’s injury as well. For now, though, it appears Kevin Durant is safe from the Kobe-esque style injury many feared he suffered.

The consensus is that Durant will leave the Warriors after this season, but nothing is set in stone yet. If the injury keeps him sidelined throughout the rest of the playoffs then Golden State fans will have to contend with the fact they may have seen Durant play in a Golden State uniform for the last time.

The question now is if Steph Curry and Klay Thompson can carry the team over a hungry Houston Rockets team hell-bent on dethroning the Warriors. The entire Rockets system is built to contend with the fast-moving and high-scoring Warriors dynasty and now that Durant is out of the picture Harden and company are probably feeling like this is going to be their best chance to beat the team while they are still together. Chris Paul made it clear in the postgame press conference that they “want [Golden State’s] best shot” because the inevitability of downplaying a Rockets series win due to the absence of Durant will surely be discussed for years to come if Houston outlasts Golden State this time around.

Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala all won an NBA championship together before Durant arrived so the expectations are still high as the offense will once again need to run through Curry to beat a three-point flurry team like Houston. Both Curry and Thompson have struggled throughout the series, but have shown offensive bursts at times. Green and Iguodala will also need to continue to play defense at a high level now that they are losing Durant who has been their leading scorer this series.

This means the x-factor for the series going forward would have to be Chris Paul. He was brought in to work alongside James Harden to beat the Warriors and now that the Warriors have lost their best player there is little to no excuse for Houston to not take the next two games with one of them being at the Toyota Center. Paul has been playing decently throughout the playoffs but it’s clear he is not playing at the high level expected of him.

PJ Tucker’s defensive prowess, which has been highly effective throughout the series, will now need to shift in focus to either Curry or Thompson given that either of the two Splash Brothers can go off from the three-point line at any time. In fact, the Warriors will most likely begin shooting more three’s in this series specifically because Durant is no longer on the floor. This means James Harden, Eric Gordon, and everyone except Clint Capela will need to find their shot from beyond the arc if they hope to win the next two games.

The loss of Kevin Durant for this series cannot be overstated, but the Warriors are far from underdogs right now given they boast a 4-man All-Star lineup.

The pressure for Houston is up now. Tucker (and to some extent, Harden) has done a decent job defending Durant so far, but he was still walking away with 30+ points most of the time. Without Durant on the court, the Rockets cannot let this opportunity escape from their grasp.


Featured Photo Credit: Elizabeth Conley/Chron.com

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