The Warriors have not lost since losing Kevin Durant to a right calf strain against the Rockets in the second round of the playoffs, leading some to wonder whether they can do without him, and perhaps even play better in that state.
ESPN/ABC analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy are not among them.
“If I’m Toronto, I don’t want everybody to be at full strength; I want to win a championship,” Jackson said on a conference call Tuesday promote the television coverage of the NBA Finals. “That’s just being a competitor.
“You want KD to be healthy and whole [on a personal level], but I wouldn’t mind him missing as many games as possible, because the goal is to win a championship, and nobody will remember who played and who didn’t play.”
Van Gundy took it a step further, lamenting “a time and place where we’re just absolutely dying to pick people apart and negate their greatness . . . Durant’s great. I don’t know if he’s going to play in this series, or if they’re going to win or lose, but there is no doubt to me that he’s great.”
While Van Gundy conceded that the Warriors play differently – “with a little more movement” – when Durant is out, it is only because that style best fits that circumstance.
“He wasn’t part of the group that lost to the Cavs [in 2016],” Van Gundy said. “He was the one that beat them twice [in 2017 and 2018]. So I’m not really sure why as a basketball community we’re trying to nitpick him instead of just saying the guy is a great, great player – all-time great.”
Van Gundy also said, “You can’t be better than they’ve been with Durant. He’s been with them for two years and they’ve won two championships and he’s been the Finals MVP twice.”
Still, the analysts said the fact the Warriors have continued to win without him is a credit to their overall talent and depth.
“It just shows you how great they are that they can be missing this top-10 player of all time and still be able to dig a hole for themselves in three straight playoff games and find their way out of a hole,” Van Gundy said. “I’m amazed at everything they’ve done with and without Durant. It’s incredible.”
Toronto is a large television market, but its ratings do not count in the United States, so Finals viewership could take a hit.
On the other hand, the Raptors have Kawhi Leonard and thus do not lack for superstar power. And the absence of Durant could add intrigue and even the playing field.
“They are not a better basketball team without Kevin Durant; to me, that is utter nonsense,” Jackson said. “You don’t have to take my word for it. The players in uniform on the Golden State Warriors have stated it.
“It’s no-brainer. If you ask me: Can I face them with or without Kevin Durant? I don’t want him on the team. I’d rather face them without him. It’s still a great team. It’s still a championship team. But they’re not a better team.”