If Kevin Durant was properly warned about the risks of playing on his strained right calf in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, then Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers is right: There is no one to blame for the fact he then tore his right Achilles. It is the worst possible outcome for the legendary player, but he gambled and lost.
However, based on Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s comments moments before Durant confirmed on Instagram that he underwent surgery to repair his ruptured Achilles, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the former MVP was not properly warned.
“When we gathered all of the information, our feeling was the worst that could happen would be a re-injury of the calf,” Kerr told reporters during Wednesday’s media availability. “That was the advice and the information that we had, and at that point, once Kevin was cleared to play, he was comfortable with that and we were comfortable with that, so the Achilles came as a complete shock. ... Had we known this was a possibility — that this was even in the realm of possibility — there’s no way we would’ve ever allowed Kevin to come back, so it’s devastating.”
Kerr expressed similar sentiments to ESPN’s Doris Burke just prior to Durant returning in Game 5 and repeated it several times immediately after the game to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols: Their greatest fear was re-injury, not a far worse one.
“Like I said Monday, I’m hurting deeply, but I’m OK,” Durant said Wednesday in a post-surgery message on Instagram. “Basketball is my biggest love and I wanted to be out there that night because that’s what I do. I wanted to help my teammates on our quest for the three peat. It’s just the way things go in this game and I’m proud that I gave it all I physically could, and I’m proud my brothers got the W.”
Kerr said the decision for Durant to play was a joint one between Durant, his agent Rich Kleiman, the Warriors’ medical staff and Durant’s independent medical team.
"We made the decision collaboratively with all the information that we had and we thought it was the right one."
- Steve Kerr responds to potential criticism their team may face from KD's injury.#NBAFinals pic.twitter.com/hlyGMOCLRP
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 12, 2019
“Prior to coming back, he went through four weeks with a medical team, and it was thorough and it was experts and multiple MRIs and multiple doctors, and we felt good about the process,” Myers said in a press conference immediately following Game 5 on Monday. “He was cleared to play tonight; that was a collaborative decision. I don't believe there's anybody to blame, but I understand in this world and if you have to, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations department.”
The Achilles connects the calf muscle to the heel bone, and there is plenty of evidence that the health of one of those structures can impact the other. There is also plenty of debate about the available science directly linking calf strains to Achilles tears, but Durant’s injury is now Exhibit A that either the two are related or that the Warriors misrepresented an existing Achilles injury as simply a calf strain.
Either way, it is near impossible now to believe Durant’s two injuries are unrelated.
As ex-NFL team doctor turned sports medical analyst Dr. David Chao put it for The San Diego Tribune, “On a simplistic level, if your car breaks down and you take it to the mechanic to have the carburetor fixed, and then on your first big road trip your car has trouble again, the chances are good that it is related to the original issue.”
The Warriors certainly wish now they had better information available to them then.
“Now, would we go back and do it over again? Damn right, but that’s easy to say after the results,” said Kerr, whose team will play Game 6 of the Finals on Thursday.
“It’s devastating, mostly for Kevin, obviously,” added Kerr, “but I feel horrible for [Warriors director of sports medicine] Rick Celebrini, who is one of the best people I’ve ever been around and one of the smartest, brightest minds I’ve ever been around. He’s devastated. ... We all are, but we made the decision collaboratively with all the information that we had, and we thought it was the right one.”
It wasn’t, and Durant paid for it. It remains to be seen whether anyone else will, too.
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