The Golden State Warriors are one win away from reaching the Western Conference Finals for the fifth consecutive year, but they will have to do it without Kevin Durant.
Durant suffered a "mild" calf strain in the third quarter of Wednesday night's Game 5 victory over the Houston Rockets. Durant left the game and has been ruled out for Friday's Game 6. He almost certainly would miss a Game 7 on Sunday, too -- ESPN reported Durant will be re-evaluated next week -- leaving the Warriors without their best player for the remainder of the series.
Durant has carried the team throughout the playoffs, averaging 34.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. Now those around him will be tasked with rising to the occasion just as they did on Wednesday night.
That starts with Stephen Curry, who has struggled in the second-round series, shooting 26.3 percent from 3-point range, a far cry from his career mark of 43.6 percent. But when Durant went down, Curry looked like his old self, scoring 20 of his 25 points in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter.
It was not just his shooting, either. He was dishing assists to Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala for layups, and received praise from head coach Steve Kerr.
“It reminded me of four or five years ago, before we had Kevin,” Kerr said.
Klay Thompson stepped up, too. He finished with a team-high 27 points — his best shooting night since his 32 point-performance against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 4 of the first round.
In addition to the Warriors’ Splash Brothers stepping up, they still need to make up for the 42.4 minutes Durant was averaging in the postseason, which means turning to a thin bench, where they are most vulnerable. Shaun Livingston, Kevin Looney, Quinn Cook and Jonas Jerebko are not exactly the most reliable guys off the bench.
Which is why Andre Iguodala may be the most important Warrior as long as Durant remains sidelined.
The 2015 NBA Finals MVP, who entered the starting lineup for the Rockets series, is averaging 12.8 points per game by making the most of his scoring opportunities. He is shooting 60 percent from the field in the second round, including 41.2 percent from 3-point range, but attempting just 8.6 field goals per game.
Iguodala's efficiency may drop as the Warriors turn to him for more scoring in Durant’s absence. But if he can maintain or even expand upon those offensive numbers in Game 6 (and a potential Game 7), the Warriors may just be able to survive without Durant.
By John Healy