NBA Finals: Kevin Durant has big hurdle to clear before he can return
TORONTO — Warriors coach Steve Kerr says the series count will have nothing to do with Kevin Durant’s eventual return in the NBA Finals.
Trailing 1-0 following the Raptors’ 118-109 victory Thursday, the Warriors won’t have the benefit of having Durant in Sunday’s Game 2 at Scotiabank Arena, Kerr officially confirmed Friday.
Nevertheless, according to an NBA source, the Warriors expect Durant to return to the series and are hopeful it will be no later than Game 4 in Oakland, but have no assurances.
The NBA source said Durant, who suffered a partially torn calf muscle on May 8, has yet to run. How Durant, a free agent who is expected to eye the Knicks, reacts to a running session will be the big hurdle.
Though the Warriors didn’t stage a formal practice, Durant was spotted Friday taking the court for a third straight day of drills with assistant coach Bruce Fraser. Durant won’t be cleared for Saturday’s practice, but the hope is he will be allowed to practice next week — perhaps between Games 2 and 3. Kerr has stated adamantly Durant won’t play until he practices at least once.
Durant’s status has taken on primary importance as the Raptors boast two star forwards in Kawhi Leonard and Game 1 hero Pascal Siakam. Durant, a sensational if underrated defender, was missed even more on the defensive end.
“It’s not my thinking, it’s not our thinking,’’ Kerr said when asked if the series count will factor into Durant’s return date. “The thinking is when he’s ready to play, he’ll play. It’s not like this is a sore ankle or his knee is sore and you can play through it. This is a tricky one. If you re-injure the calf, then that’s it, and then he’s done for the series.’ ’’
Kerr hinted Durant could be on a minutes restriction because of his conditioning, especially in the first game. That will be determined by the team’s director of sports medicine, Dr. Rick Celebrini, not Kerr.
Durant, who won the past two NBA Finals MVPs, was averaging 34.2 points in the Warriors’ first 11 postseason contests before the May 8 injury. But the Warriors had gone 6-0 — including the night he got injured against Houston — since Durant hurt his leg backpedaling.
The Raptors proved in Game 1 they are a different animal than the Blazers or Rockets — with Kerr saying Canada’s Team remind him of the Warriors with their speed because of how Siakam can push the pace as consistently as Draymond Green.
“I’m just not going to answer any questions about do we miss him against this team or that team or whatever,’’ Kerr said. “Because it’s just a sound bite and it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is we have to win the game with what we have.’’
Kerr said Durant has “done well’’ with on-court drills since he started them on Wednesday and is “continuing to ramp stuff up.’’
Green said he feels Durant is “inching closer.’’ Unless there’s a setback, it appears Durant’s next game won’t be a Knicks’ preseason contest — if that dream ever happens.
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