TORONTO — Kevin Durant took pregame warmups with all of Toronto raining down on him. What felt like half of Lake Ontario was falling from the sky, with Jurassic Park outside ScotiaBank Arena trapped in that scene when the storm arrives and Newman loses a bunch of genetic material because he’s blinded by a bunch of velociraptors that refused to fetch the stick, stupid.
Durant took the floor for warmups to the usual mix of cheers and boos that have followed him pretty much everywhere since he left the Thunder for Golden State three seasons ago. As he began to put up shots and stretch before a game for the first time in a month, fans began to take notice, and a Bronx cheer from Raptors fans followed his uncontested misses. All Durant could do was keep going, spinning and shooting and stepping back against a dummy defender to test his legs before he tried to help Golden State fend off oblivion. But the jeering, though strong at first, soon went away and the usual pregame murmur returned.
Durant simply kept making shots until the noise went away altogether.
Basketball has always been what’s fixed things for Kevin Durant. It’s part of his story. The running uphill and hours of shooting and learning to sleep “all squinched” because he never had a big enough bed until he turned pro. Moving five times and attending seven different schools in his childhood. The struggles he expressed in his “You Da Real MVP” speech he dedicated to his mother were very real, though they feel a lifetime away given all that’s happened since he tearfully delivered that speech in Oklahoma City in 2014.
“Basketball has gotten him through his life,” Warriors general manager Bob Meyers said, his voice breaking in an impromptu press conference after Game 5, the executive coming to terms with what basketball had just done to one of the game’s generational greats. Durant, absent for 32 days and nine Warriors postseason games, was subjected to weeks of speculation about the “frustrating” nature of his right calf injury, and came back to basketball like nothing had kept him away at all on Monday night.
Durant made his first two threes 32 seconds apart in the opening quarter and for a while it looked like everything was back to where it should be. The Warriors needed him, and he was ready to answer the call. The narrative was in place, Durant had 11 points in 12 minutes and was a quick +6 while on the floor. Then, three minutes into the second quarter, he planted his right leg and pushed into Serge Ibaka and everything stopped. Durant dropped the ball. He dropped to the floor. And everyone except the photographer next to me in Rogers Gondola knew what happened: Durant was hurt. This time it was bad.
In the moment, with a long-eluded championship dangling close for Raptors fans, the sight of Durant going down drew noticeable cheers. Durant, hyped as the last hope for a Warriors team that’s looked anything but dominant through four Finals games without him, was a threat equalized by fate or the basketball gods or medical malpractice. Whatever, the fact that a human being had suffered before their eyes didn’t matter in the moment.
It was a moment rightly derided across the NBA, and after the game Steph Curry said he was “very confused” by the reaction. Curry’s father Dell played for the Raptors, and he grew up in Toronto and knows it well. He credited two current Raptors players for making fans — who later politely applauded Durant off the court and briefly chanted “KD! KD! KD!” as he exited from view — realize they got it wrong at first blush.