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What Kevin Durant’s injury means for the rest of the playoffs

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If he can’t return but the Warriors somehow still win it all, it would be quite the accomplishment.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In a poll we ran immediately after the Spurs season ended, 28% of SpursNation chose the Milwaukee Bucks, with Coach Mike Budenholzer, as the team they now wanted to win the NBA Championship (and another Pounder just joined the party). The Golden State Warriors finished dead last at 4%, just behind the Houston Rockets at 5%.

In the listing of pros and cons of rooting for each team, this is what I wrote about GSW: “No one roots for the Death Star.” Except perhaps, this guy:

Not that long ago, the Warriors weren’t the Death Star that was very difficult to root for. Indeed, I remember the exact day the Warriors became my back-up favorite team behind the Spurs: October 28, 2013. I remember the day because I wrote about it (in my pre-PTR days). I had attended a very early season Lakers game and realized I didn’t know or care about any of the players on that team. For my new back-up team, I chose the Warriors.

This was the start of the 2013-2014 season, before anyone knew the Warriors would be good. They were just OK that year, as they were still coached by Mark Jackson. The next year, they hired ex-Spur Steve Kerr, who promised to rejuvenate the offense, and he did. With the same players who had been only league-average under Jackson, the new offense was a revelation, and it was fun. Spurs-like movement with two great shooters thrown in. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were freed to run around the court firing up threes, and the entire team’s passing was great. Andre Iguodala, one of the best people in the game, was the “veteran leadership”, and Sean Livingston was completing his comeback to a solid NBA player. All in all, an easy team to like.

But they became very hard to root for once Kevin Durant joined. While I did not begrudge KD for his choice (would you rather play with the Splash Brothers or Russell Westbrook?), joining a 73-win team seemed a bit of overkill — even if the Warriors had not won the championship the year before and their antics leading up to that meltdown not winning them any new fans.

I, and others, referred to this new juggernaut as the Death Star. Except for long-suffering Warriors fans who deserved a bit of redemption, the Warriors became the team that other fans hoped would lose, but didn’t believe it would happen. Hence the 4% vote in our poll, even lower than the Houston Rockets, a team very hard for anyone outside of Houston to like.

Will KD’s injury in Game 5 against the Rockets — ruled a strained calf — change things for NBA fans? In my view, the team is now back to the team that was easy to like. They still have Coach Kerr, Steph, Klay and Iggy, all the reasons they were fun. And while we don’t yet know if Durant is out for the playoffs (he will miss the remainder of this series and be re-evaluated in a week), if he is, a Warrior championship would be historic.

People still talk about the Willis Reed game in which he could barely play in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, but the Knicks still prevailed against a Lakers team led by Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. In Magic’s rookie year, the team won Game 6 and the championship against Dr. J’s 76ers with Kareem at home with an ankle he sprained (badly) in Game 5. But no team has ever lost their best player before the halfway point in the playoffs and still gone on to win it all. Even with KD, the Warriors needed six games to beat the 8 seed Clippers and are playing an outstanding Rockets team that came within 6 points or less in the three Warrior wins, and beat them twice. All this with Durant playing at Jordan-esque levels on both ends of the court.

If the Warriors hang on to beat the Rockets without KD and get past the Nuggets/Blazers winner, they will face either the Bucks or (presumably) Raptors in the Finals. Both of those teams have better records than the Warriors and will have home-court advantage in the Finals. Without KD, each will also have the best player on the floor each night. Without KD, the Warriors will not be favored against either, even if they get that far.

All of this may be premature. Perhaps KD only misses a game and comes back strong. But if not, and the Warriors keep plugging along, playing the pre-KD Warriors style of basketball, and win with the Warriors’ best player in street clothes, that will be a great story.

And Curry may be looking forward to writing that story.

With Durant out for an indefinite amount of time, Curry acknowledged that the Warriors would have to go back to how they played four years ago, before Golden State acquired its star forward.

”Whoever has the ball, no matter if it’s off a pick-and-roll, we swing, make the defense work, make decisions on that end of the floor,” Curry said. “We still have a lot of weapons and can create good offense through that type of attack.

”At the end of the day, everything that we do starts with our defense. That gave us a chance to win down the stretch with how hard we played on that end of the floor. Just subtle changes that happen when you don’t have those play calls that gets K in the right spot to take advantage of his talent. We’ll tap into that for however long he’s out.”