TORONTO — When the official word finally came down that Kevin Durant would join the Warriors’ lineup for the first time in more than a month in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night at Scotiabank Arena, the Raptors were more than prepared. Coach Nick Nurse said he had been devoting prep time to Durant since Game 3 when rumors of his imminent return gained more credence.
Given the Raptors’ 3-1 series lead, and with fans in the arena and a throng outside in Jurassic Park poised to celebrate the first NBA title in franchise history, there was a certain air of “too little, too late” as Durant attempted to return from a serious right calf injury. But Nurse was taking nothing for granted.
“He brings everything, right?” Nurse said of the player who was MVP in the previous two NBA Finals. “He brings an explosive transition game. He’ll race up the floor and pull up from across halfcourt like a couple of their other guys do. They have got a package of stuff they run for him.”
Durant made his presence felt in the first quarter when he scored 11 points, including 3-for-3 on three-pointers, and he added two rebounds and a block to help the Warriors to a 34-28 first-quarter lead.
But with 9:46 left in the second quarter, Durant collided with Serge Ibaka and crumpled to the court when he failed to reach the loose ball. Durant immediately grabbed his lower right leg near his Achilles tendon, which is what he injured May 8. He was helped to his feet and escorted to the locker room, his NBA Finals over before it could really begin.
Before the game, Nurse admitted Raptors star Kawhi Leonard, who probably is the best two-way player in the NBA, was the logical choice to guard Durant. “You don’t really have anybody that can look him in the eye, but at least maybe the chest up,” Nurse said. “You can’t get too small on him, or he’ll shoot over you.”
Just as the Warriors were hoping Durant’s return might change the series, Nurse said that’s what Leonard did after the Raptors lost Game 2. Nurse told his players to just win one in Oakland to regain home-court advantage. With a smile, Nurse added, “And Kawhi said, ‘\[Expletive\] that. Let’s get them both.’”
The Raptors did that, and it forced Durant to return before he was truly ready.