If the Warriors Weren’t Facing Elimination, Would Kevin Durant Have Played?

It was his first game action since May 8 when he suffered a calf injury against the Rockets, but Warriors All-Star Kevin Durant looked like his old self on Monday night.

That is, until the star forward suffered an Achilles injury in the second quarter of Golden State’s 106-105 Game 5 win over the Toronto Raptors.

The devastating injury left many emotional — including Warriors GM Bob Myers, who shed tears during his postgame press conference.

“I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame, but I understand this world,” Myers told reporters, knowing that pundits and fans alike wanted someone held accountable for Durant’s injury.

“If you have to, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations department.”

Despite Myers’ willingness to be Golden State’s scapegoat, the fact is KD’s postseason is done. And while he has not yet undergone an MRI, it’s possible that Durant might not play basketball next season.

According to Stadium NBA Insider Shams Charania, Durant will seek a second opinion on the injury.

“The initial injury was a calf injury. This is not a calf injury,” Myers said. “I don’t know how those are related or not, but it’s a different injury.”

Myers was asked about the process surrounding Durant’s return, which seemed to be a daily discussion since the Western Conference Finals.

“Prior to coming back, he went through four weeks with our medical team,” Myers revealed. “It was thorough and it was experts and multiple MRIs and multiple doctors, and we felt good about the process.”

“He was cleared to play tonight, that was a collaborative decision.”

The last part of Myers’ statement is important.

It means the decision for Durant to return wasn’t a mandate from the front office, team doctors or other players. It was Durant, Myers, head coach Steve Kerr and the medical staff coming to a consensus on the forward’s availability.

This comes after multiple reports claimed that Durant was being pressured to play through his injury after seeing teammates Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney, Andre Iguodala and DeMarcus Cousins fight through their own health issues during the NBA Finals.

Myers’ comments indicate that Durant wasn’t pressured into playing Game 5. He just wanted to be out there for his team in an elimination game, even if it meant potentially re-aggravating his injury.

“For him to put his health on the line to come back and compete at the highest level, he’s one of the best to ever do it,” Thompson told reporters after the game. “I want to try to win this for him. We miss him, we just hope him a speedy recovery, that’s our brother.”

While Thompson spoke about Durant’s injury, Kerr decided to defer answering questions regarding Durant’s status. But he did give some insight into the mentality in Golden State’s locker room.

“It’s a bizarre feeling that we all have right now,” observed Kerr. “An incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time.”

Durant’s setback closes a month-long chapter on his health. Kerr said Durant could’ve potentially returned for Games 3 and 4 against the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, but Golden State went on to sweep Portland. That result extended the conversation around Durant into the Finals.

Let’s get one thing out of the way — hindsight is always 20/20.

Injuries can happen at any moment for any player. A completely healthy athlete can suffer a season-ending setback at any point.

Durant, who started the game 3-for-3 from 3-point range, looked ready to play on both ends of the floor. Keeping that in mind, it’s hard to question Golden State’s process of clearing him to return. But what can be questioned is whether that process was dictated more by circumstances than by the superstar’s health.

If Golden State wasn’t facing elimination in Game 5, would Durant have been cleared to play?

The Warriors weren’t ready to put Durant in a game for over a month, but then, with their backs against the wall for the first time during KD’s absence, he was suddenly healthy enough to return? If there are any questions worth asking regarding these unfortunate circumstances, the Warriors’ staff should be cross-examined about their decision-making process that allowed a less than healthy Durant to return before he was ready.

Now, Durant will likely begin a lengthy rehabilitation process ahead of his upcoming free agency, and while he has financial security thanks to a $31.5 million player option if he were to return to Golden State, he should still receive maximum contract offers from multiple teams this summer.

And after Monday night’s debacle, you can guarantee that those interested parties will do everything in their power to check on Durant’s health status.

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