TORONTO — It’s easy to look at the facts surrounding the Golden State Warriors and assume they’re mired in turmoil. If they were any other team, they would be.
Kevin Durant traveled with the team to Toronto ahead of the start of the NBA Finals Thursday, but isn’t practicing and hasn’t played since injuring his calf on May 8.
DeMarcus Cousins, meanwhile, is practicing, but is listed as questionable for Game 1.
Between them, those two players have racked up the following: one league MVP, 11 all-NBA selections and 14 all-star nods, not to mention Durant’s two Finals MVPs and the rings to go with them.
That collection of accolades would better the haul of many an NBA team, and it’s currently boxed in Warriors-bench pine until further notice.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors’ injury report is as clean as it gets this time of year. OG Anunoby is the lone question mark for the series. He got shots up on NBA Finals media day, but has no official timetable for a return.
So, on the eve of the finals, you’d expect the Warriors to show signs of stress, or eagerness for resolution of the questions hanging over their heads.
And you’d be disappointed.
In his media day press conference, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr reiterated his words from the other day, stating again that Durant will be unavailable for Game 1.
“His next step is individual court work, so that will be the next priority over the next couple of days,” Kerr said. “Hopefully he can wrap that up, and then he’s going to have to practice. We have to see him in practice before he can play a game, and he hasn’t practiced yet.”
That would seem to put a Durant appearance in Game 2 — four days away — as a long shot.
Cousins, meanwhile, has a similarly murky timetable. While Kerr said it hasn’t been determined whether the centre will be active for Game 1, he seemed reticent to rush him back — both for his own sake and for the team’s.
“If this were the regular season, I would throw him out there and he would play whatever minutes he could tolerate and we would build him up from there. This is not the regular season. This is the Finals,” the coach said. “So we have to figure out what’s the best way to utilize him, how many minutes can he play, what the game feels like, what the matchups are like.”
Yet, all of that said, neither Kerr, nor Steph Curry, nor Klay Thompson, nor Draymond Green — the Warriors’ original big three — exuded anything resembling the kind of worry that would usually go hand in hand with the indefinite absence of not one but two legitimate NBA superstars.
Thompson took questions from assembled media members, saying he likes Drake the musician but not Drake the Raptors fan, and when it was over he drummed happily on the table and bounced away — just as one might in a post-game presser after a win.
Shortly thereafter, Green got asked whether he thought the Warriors’ slow-starting defence would be good enough against this Raptors team, smiled and delivered a kind of rallying cry.
“I always think anything we do will be good enough,” he said. “That’s the confidence I have in our group.”
It’s a confidence that’s been earned over the long haul, and with many iterations of that group.
With the return of a healthy Durant, the Warriors are essentially the same team that’s won two straight Larry O’Brien trophies by a combined eight games to one over LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers — a team, let’s not forget, that dispatched a pre-Kawhi Leonard Raptors by a combined eight games to none.
With Durant and Cousins, they are a fast-breaking basketball Mount Rushmore.
And without Durant and Cousins, this is merely the team that appeared in the 2015 and 2016 finals, winning one and going to a deciding Game 7 in the other, not to mention winning an NBA-record 73 games in the 2015–16 regular season.
None of those teams is what any rational mind would call a vulnerable one.
Still, however, this being the age of the 24-hour sports news cycle, many have asked whether the team is actually better without Durant.
Put simply: No team that rosters Kevin Durant is better without Durant. That’s silly. He was having perhaps the best run of anyone in the 2018–19 post-season before he went down, scoring 34.2 points per game (tops in the playoffs) on 50/40/90 shooting with 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks to boot.
But still, the team went 5-0 without him in the lineup. From Game 6 of the Western semis on, Curry is averaging 35.8 points (tops in the playoffs in that span) with 6.0 threes, 7.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists. Thompson has poured in 22.6 points and Green has flirted with a triple double — 14.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 8.4 assists.
And though 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala missed Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, he appeared to be a full go at media day.
So whether the team is better without Durant is irrelevant. The truth is there is every bit of evidence that they are great either way.
When Curry got asked about how his team will hold the fort while Durant is out, he kept it simple.
“Just keep doing what we have been doing. Doing it by committee. We have had some amazing contributions from everybody on the bench that’s come in and produced for us on both ends of the floor. So we’re going to have to play smart,” he said. “Just play with confidence and play fast, play loose and play disciplined. We know what we’re capable of.
“And when he does come back,” Curry continued, segueing seamlessly into a scary future for Raptors fans, “we’ll be able to transition and hopefully elevate our game even more. So great opportunity for us no matter who is playing.”
If Curry played on any other team, that might be seen as bluster or false confidence. But he plays for the three-time champion Warriors — appearing in their fifth straight Finals — and it’s as good as fact.