By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) – The Golden State Warriors are in an unfamiliar position after losing the opening game of the NBA Finals but head coach Steve Kerr said on Friday that will not force them to rush injured Kevin Durant back into the lineup.
Durant, named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in each of the Warriors’ title runs during the last two years, has been out for three weeks with a calf injury and Kerr said he will not play in Sunday’s Game Two.
While adding a healthy Durant to the lineup would tip the NBA Finals in Golden State’s favor, Kerr said the team will not let the status of the best-of-seven series factor into the decision of when he plays next.
“The thinking is when he’s ready to play, he’ll play,” Kerr told reporters on Friday. “It’s not like this is a sore ankle or his knee is sore, whatever, and you can play through it. This is a tricky one.
“If you re-injure the calf, then that’s it and then he’s done for the series. So when he’s ready to play, he’ll play. That’s our approach.”
Golden State’s 118-109 loss to Toronto on Thursday marked the first time that Kerr’s talent-laden group, gunning for a fourth title in five years, have lost Game One in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
Kerr said Durant has done well with his rehabilitation the last couple of days and was ramping up activities, including on-court drills, but added that when he is ready to play it will not be in a limited role.
“When he’s ready to play, we’re going to play him. Maybe it will be a minutes issue, based on his conditioning for not having played in a month or whatever it is, but we’ll just have to wait and see,” said Kerr.
“Once he’s ready to play he’ll play, and then (Warriors trainer) Rick (Celebrini) and I will discuss what a plan would be in terms of how many minutes and all that stuff.”
Without Durant, the Warriors shifted their style of play and won five consecutive games to reach the NBA Finals but the star forward’s absence finally caught up to them against the Raptors.
The Warriors will need a more balanced offense, one that goes beyond the sweet-shooting duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, to get the better of the Raptors.
Kerr said the Warriors will review footage of the Raptors to be better prepared for Game Two in Toronto but also said his team’s experience will keep any sense of panic from seeping in.
“Winning multiple championships helps because you have seen it all,” said Kerr. “There’s also just the knowledge that you’ve been here before. You’ve been down. We have been up 3-1 and lost a series. We have been down 3-1 and won a series. Everything in between.
“So nothing is going to catch these guys off guard, and they are very accustomed to the rhythm and tone of a seven-game series and how long it takes, how many twists and turns there are.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Tony Lawrence)