With Golden State facing elimination Monday night, many wondered if Kevin Durant would be able to return from the strained calf injury he suffered back in the second round. The severity of the injury was never reported, making it near impossible to determine whether or not Durant would be able to return at some point in the postseason. Sunday marked the first day that he was able to go through a practice with teammates, and it was ultimately announced that he’s considered to be questionable for Game 5 Monday night. That status doesn’t guarantee his return, but at the very least the two-time NBA Finals MVP is closer to an appearance on the court than he was just a couple days ago.
"He'll get some extra work in with some of our younger players and we'll gauge it from there," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Sunday afternoon.
While Durant is an elite scorer who can also impact games defensively thanks to his long wingspan, he hasn’t played in a competitive game in nearly a month. Will he be rusty? And if so, how much time would it take for Durant to shake off the rust and at the very least be a player that can provide consistent scoring help to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson? Durant played against the Raptors twice during the regular season and he posted solid stat lines in both games, going for 30 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two 3-pointers and five turnovers in Oakland, and 51 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, four 3-pointers and one turnover in Toronto.
From a matchups standpoint Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam were the Raptors most often asked to defend Durant in those games. Leonard, who played in one of the two meetings, defended Durant for 46 possessions in Toronto’s 131-128 home win back on November 29. According to NBA Stats, KD scored 21 of his 51 points when being defended by Leonard, shooting 63.6% from the field with the Warriors as a team scoring 51 points in those 46 possessions. But the team point differential was a minus-5.6, one reason why Golden State was unable to pull out the win despite the team’s star forward being virtually unstoppable.
As for Siakam he had an average of 28 defensive possessions against Durant per game in the two meetings, with Golden State’s star averaging 11.5 points per when being defended by the third-year forward out of New Mexico State. The Warriors’ point differential was even worse in those possessions, dropping to a minus-18.3, with Durant shooting 45.5% from the field and 16.7% from beyond the arc. Toronto has two solid options to use in defending Durant if he’s able to play Monday night. Danny Green (nine possessions per game), Serge Ibaka (four) and Kyle Lowry (3.5) all averaged multiple possessions per game defending KD in the regular season, as did OG Anunoby (8.0 per).
An emergency appendectomy sidelined Anunoby late in the regular season, and since being cleared ahead of Game 2 he’s yet to appear in a game. Could the return of Durant be what gets Anunoby onto the court? That remains to be seen, but even if he does get back onto the court Anunoby’s unlikely to have much of an impact from a DFS standpoint.
Fred VanVleet’s good to go for Game 5
Since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Raptors reserve guard Fred VanVleet has been playing much better than he did at the start of the post season. He had just eight points in Toronto’s win Thursday night, but he also accounted for six assists and four rebounds before leaving the game after taking a Shaun Livingston elbow to the face. VanVleet suffered a cut to his face, and he also lost a tooth, but the bigger concern whenever a player takes a shot to the head is the possibility of a concussion. Not only did VanVleet get the tooth issue taken care of, but it was also reported that he was not concussed.
VanVleet has been dealing with some swelling underneath his right eye, but he has been cleared to play Monday night. And he’ll be doing so while using a mouthpiece, which will take some getting used to.
“It was a weird play, and I took an unfortunate shot,” VanVleet said Sunday. “And so now I will be wearing a mouthpiece for as long as I can manage it. I'll probably throw it at some point during the game, but I'm going to try.”
For the series he’s averaging 12.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.0 three-pointers per game, shooting 46.8% from the field, 35.0% from three and 5-of-7 from the foul line. VanVleet has also been a factor defensively, as he’s done a good job of chasing around Curry when given that matchup. That’s been in both straight man-to-man and the box-and-1 that Nick Nurse has called upon at times, but how much that gimmick defense will be used Monday night will likely depend upon whether or not Kevin Durant is able to play. It’s far tougher to throw the box-and-1 at Curry if he’s on the court with another player who can create offense for himself off the dribble.
Draft prospect Charles Matthews suffers a torn ACL
Michigan guard Charles Matthews’ pre-draft workouts came to an end late last week, as it was reported that he suffered a torn ACL in his knee during a workout with the Boston Celtics. He’ll undergo surgery to repair the torn ligament in the near future, and at that point a timetable for his recovery will be established. Matthews isn’t a lock to hear his name called on draft night, but he performed well enough in workouts defensively to receive increased interest with regards to the second round.
Adam Pensack, Matthews’ agent, told ESPN’s Jonathan Givony on Sunday that the hope now is to potentially sign a two-way contract as Edmond Sumner did in 2017. Sumner’s sophomore season at Xavier came to a premature end due to a torn ACL, but he was still picked in the second round by Indiana due to the willingness to agree to a two-way deal. Pensack said that his client is definitely interested in following a similar path, something that not all draft prospects are willing to do. We did not project Matthews to be selected in the latest mock draft, but he’s clearly on the radar of NBA decision-makers thanks to his performance in workouts prior to the injury.
Don’t be surprised if Matthews is selected — Auburn’s Chuma Okeke is viewed as an early-to-mid second round prospect despite tearing his ACL in the Sweet 16 — with the willingness to accept a two-way contract helping his chances.
Mike D’Antoni, Rockets not close to finalizing a new deal
On Sunday it was reported by ESPN that the Houston Rockets and Mike D’Antoni were close to agreeing to terms on a contract extension, but the coach’s agent refuted that report. Discussions have resumed after D’Antoni ended them in late May but according to agent Warren LaGarie, who was not at the meeting between the coach, Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta and general manager Darryl Morey, the two sides are not closing in on a new contract. Per the Houston Chronicle the Rockets offered D’Antoni an extension worth a base salary of $5 million, with $4 million in incentives for advancing in the postseason being available as well.
The issues with the first contract were the terms of the buyout and also the base salary, with the $5 million figure being less than what other veteran head coaches have received. D’Antoni’s already said that he’ll simply coach for the remainder of his current contract if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, so there won’t be a major adjustment for the players when it comes to the offensive system used. But who moves on, if anyone happens to be traded this summer, and who joins the team will have a significant impact on many of those that manage to remain with the franchise. This will be an interesting offseason for Houston, given the reports that virtually every player on the roster is available via trade and D’Antoni’s contract status.
The team has already made some changes to the coaching staff, with Jeff Bzdelik and Irv Roland not being retained.