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Winners and Losers: Kevin Durant’s Injury Mars a Warriors Elimination-Game Win

The Golden State star left Game 5 in a walking boot with plenty of questions trailing after him. Plus: Kawhi Leonard goes full Jordan in a losing effort, and the Splash Bros. live to splash another day.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The good, the bad, and the disheartening from Game 5 of the NBA Finals.


Loser: Winners and Losers

Chris Ryan: Here’s how we do this: We watch a game, and we decide who was a winner and who was a loser. We know the binary is a simplification of a complicated collision of tactics, athleticism, endurance, and random factors like, I don’t know, the air conditioning going out during a Finals game in San Antonio. But all sports—even, ultimately, soccer—have a winner and a loser, so it makes sense to apply final judgment to all the characters.

Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals was the exception that proves the rule. Was Kyle Lowry a loser for missing that whoopee cushion of a final shot? Just moments before, I would have called him a winner—the last vestige of old Raptors, helping to finally lead the franchise to the promised land. Is Boogie Cousins a winner or a loser? He rushed back to help his team, is clearly out of game shape, and is in uncharted territory as a player. But he almost handed an NBA championship to Toronto with a series of late-game fouls and foul-ups. Is Draymond a winner or a loser? His late-game backcourt violation almost cost the Warriors the series, but his attitude kept them in the contest after Kevin Durant went down with an Achilles injury in the second quarter.

This was a game that defied easy classification. It was a classic, a mess, a thrill ride, and a heartbreaker. For almost everyone involved.

Winner and Loser: Kevin Durant

Ryan: Durant looked sincerely happy to get cursed out. Out with a calf injury since late in the Western Conference semifinals, Durant was back on the floor in Game 5, squaring off against Fred VanVleet after a particularly tetchy possession that ended with KD and FVV going basically one-on-one. There was a push-off, some trash talk, and then, from Durant, a big damn smile. Kevin Durant was back in the shit, and there was nowhere else he’d rather be. For about a quarter and a half, Durant gave us everything he had. Eleven points, perfect from the stripe, perfect from beyond the arc, hope springing eternal from every shooting stroke, shot block, and smart pass.

And then it happened. There will be plenty of blame to go around, and in the coming days and weeks we’ll get stories about medical staffs, front offices, sports media, and load management. On Monday night, Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers said Durant had injured his Achilles—the injury many feared he suffered when he first got hurt against Houston. I really hope this isn’t the case. Durant had the unfortunate job of carrying the hopes of Golden State’s present on his shoulders this season, as well as the NBA’s future. I hope we don’t get robbed of seeing him at his best again. We didn’t see that on Monday night, but what we got was enough of a reminder of how great his best can be.

Loser: Raptors Fans

John Gonzalez: Raptors fans have mostly been delightful throughout this series. During Game 1 in Toronto, they offered to ply me with endless poutine and Crown Royal. After Game 4 in Oakland, lots of them hung around Oracle Arena long after Warriors fans fled the place and belted out a raucous rendition of “O Canada.” I’ve really enjoyed them—which is why the reaction of some of the Scotiabank crowd to Kevin Durant’s injury in Game 5 was disappointing.

I wasn’t at this game. My Ringer colleague Kevin O’Connor was, and he said the majority of the crowd didn’t seem to be cheering the fact that KD got hurt. Kevin also thought the vibe turned supportive of Durant pretty quickly as he left the floor. But in the video you can clearly see fans waving goodbye to KD. And whatever the percentage of gleeful jeers happened to be, it was enough to make Klay Thompson grimace in disapproval and Kyle Lowry wave the crowd off and try to quiet them down. That said a lot about what the players on the floor thought of the response.

Again, it wasn’t all Raptors fans or even most Raptors fans, but it was enough Raptors fans to bum me out after they had been such a universally feel-good story this postseason. And while we’re at it, it was a bad night for those “KD wasn’t hurt” takes. When it comes to injuries, let’s all pause and try to act like human beings first.

Winners: The Splash Brothers

Justin Verrier: As Steph Curry processed the first question from ESPN’s Doris Burke, the raw enthusiasm that splayed from his body at the sound of the final buzzer had settled. Curry seemed almost shaken from the head-spinning number of twists and turns in the Warriors’ season-saving victory. He began his response not with a shimmy but with a shrug. “I’ve got a lot of emotions right now,” he said.

Same.

With Kevin Durant sidelined by another, more serious injury to his right leg and a dynasty hanging in the balance, the Warriors responded in a way that was almost too cliché to be true: Curry and Klay Thompson saved the day. Down six with two minutes and 40 seconds to go, the Splash Brothers combined to hit three straight 3-pointers—all off assists from members of the 2015 title team—to clinch the win and force one final game in Oakland. Curry ended the night with 31 points, becoming only the sixth player in recent history with 10 30-plus-point games in the Finals, per NBA.com/Stats. Thompson had 26 points, almost entirely off 3s (7-for-13).

On most nights, such a performance from the OG Warriors would quickly give way to a referendum on Durant. The Warriors shot down claims that they were better without KD coming off a blistering Western Conference finals performance, but even they couldn’t hide the fact that they looked happier without KD on the court in Portland.

That wasn’t the case on Monday. Curry was clearly aware of the severity of KD’s injury—now being described as an “Achilles injury”—by the time he stepped to the mic. And when Durant was brought back to the locker room in the second quarter, his arm draped around Andre Iguodala, Curry was there walking behind him the entire way. The Splash Brothers won the game for the Warriors, and perhaps even earned extra motivation heading into the rest of this series, but it was clear that everyone on the Warriors’ side lost something as well on this night.

Winner: Kawhi Leonard

Gonzalez: There have been many Kawhi Games this postseason, but Leonard didn’t put his mark on Game 5 until the end—until the Raptors needed him most. Toronto was down three with under seven minutes left in the game when Danny Green bricked a 26-footer, and The Board Man came flying in from out of nowhere to try to save the day. Leonard grabbed the offensive rebound, put it back for a quick two points, and started yet another run of the incredible basketball that has defined his postseason. Kawhi hit running pull-up 26-footers and fall-away floaters in the paint. He scored 12 of the Raptors’ final 16 points. He finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks—and it still wasn’t enough. There will be a Game 6 in Oakland on Thursday night, but not because Kawhi didn’t do everything he could in the fourth quarter to keep that from happening.

Kawhi has pretty obviously been the best player in this postseason, and I’m not sure there’s a close second. He’s gotten better with each successive series, which is a big reason the Raptors made believers out of so many of us. But on a night when Toronto could have ended the Finals and delivered the first-ever NBA-related parade to Canada, Leonard wasn’t his superstar self—or at least not the supernova he’s been in these playoffs. He had a rough shooting night to start and ended up going 9-for-24 from the floor. That would normally be forgiven. After all, the Raptors had been 3-1 in closeout games this postseason before Monday evening—including the unforgettable first Game 7 buzzer-beater in playoff history to beat the Sixers in the second round—largely thanks to Kawhi.

There is just no way Toronto would have advanced this far without Leonard. We know that from the team’s previous playoff performances, and the results the Raptors have enjoyed since his arrival last offseason. Even so, they really could have used one more finishing move from Killer Kawhi on Monday night. I guess that’s the problem with delivering so much for so long—even when you give everything you’ve got, people still expect more.