by Jim SLATER
TORONTO, Canada (AFP) — Golden State Warriors star forward Kevin Durant, sidelined for a month by a right calf injury, practiced with the defending champions Sunday and could return for the must-win fifth game of the NBA Finals.
Improving enough for workouts means Durant might play Monday against Toronto, which owns a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and needs only one win to become the first team from outside the United States to win the NBA title.
“We’ll know more after that,” Kerr said without giving a timetable for a decision. “The mood is good. We’ve still got plenty to play for. We have an amazing opportunity and challenge. We’re going to do everything we can to meet that challenge. We’re excited about it.”
The Raptors, seeking the first title in their 24-season history, are ready if Durant — the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player — rejoins Golden State.
“If he plays, he’s an MVP. He’s really, really talented,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “But we can’t focus on that. We have to focus on ourselves. Play how we need to play, grind it out.”
To have a hope of winning a third consecutive NBA crown and fourth in five seasons, the Warriors must win Monday to force a sixth game Thursday in Oakland, then win that to force a winner-take-all showdown next Sunday in Toronto.
“You’re going to see a resilient Warrior team,” Golden State guard Klay Thompson said. “We’ve had our backs against the wall before. It’s a little more daunting being down 3-1, but usually when our backs are against the wall, we respond the best.”
A ‘powerful weapon’
Durant, out since being hurt in a second-round game against Houston, leads the Warriors with 34.2 points a game. The Warriors won their first five games without him but have since struggled to contain Toronto.
“It’s just having another powerful weapon out there that can do some very dynamic things,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.
“We’ll be able to adjust in transition pretty smoothly. He has been in plenty of finals and has played well. No matter what percentage he’s at, I’m sure he’ll be impactful and effective out there.
“We just have to be aggressive and smart and competitive, especially on the defensive end, and the rest should take care of itself.”
Golden State has examined what went wrong after dropping two home games to the Raptors.
“I wouldn’t say we’re down at all,” Curry said. “It’s mostly just we’re anxious to get out there and play a great game. We know we can do it. It’s just a matter of proving it.”
What Durant can contribute and how well the team blends him back into the lineup will be critical factors for Golden State.
“The game plan changes so you adapt accordingly,” Kerr said. “We have a little better sense of what we can do and where we can go as guys get healthier.
“As we get healthier and have some time to heal and rest, I like our chances. So we’ll see what happens.”
Curry sees the task as simple.
“Just win one basketball game and then we’ll worry about the rest,” Curry said. “Can you go out tomorrow, play an amazing 48 minutes, quiet this crowd that’s going to be probably unbelievable and slow down a team that’s been playing amazing?
“The confidence that we can flip that switch, and no matter what has happened the last two games be world-beaters tomorrow from the jump, that’s definitely something that we can do and execute.”
Having Durant in uniform would boost that belief even more.
“We’ll come in the arena with the right mindset,” Thompson said. “I feel for Kevin. We just have to do everything in our willpower to help him get back.
“He will be very welcome. We miss him out there. He has propelled us to two championships in the last two years. So it would be pretty storybook if he could come back and help us do the same.”
© Agence France-Presse