If he’s healthy, Kevin Durant has to play. If there are no physical restrictions or associated risks, he should be on the court for what remains of the Warriors’ first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers.
And, yes, this goes against the sentiment that has become trendy in recent days.
Do the Warriors, with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, need Durant to close out Portland? No. Not in the least. The absence of starting center Jusuf Nurkic, who possibly could miss the entire series, is an opening for a Warriors sweep.
Which is why it has become fashionable to suggest they should confine Durant to the sideline for Game 3 Saturday and even Game 4 on Monday. Why put him on the court for Game 3 if you won Game 4 by 29 points?
Here’s why: Durant wants to be out there. If his left calf strain is fully recovered, he should be out there.
Durant’s mentality, and he has conveyed this many times, is one of devotion to the game. Basketball is his greatest passion, and it’s also his identity. He has many interests beyond the game -- the game does not begin to define his humanity -- but the essence of Kevin Durant is most visible when he’s doing his thing on the court.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr has been around Durant long enough to fully comprehend this. He sees Durant’s work ethic, sees the attention he devotes to details and feels his love affair with the game.
“If he's ready to play, he's going to play,” Kerr said after a 110-81 victory in Game 2 at Oracle Arena. “But if there's any question, then we won't play him.”
If he’s ready is the smart play. Even if the Warriors go up to Portland and win Game 3 by 40 points without Durant, he should play in Game 4 if he is medically cleared.
You have to consider Durant’s status in the game. He is, by any reasonable and rational standard, one of the top five players on earth. Some have questioned his competitive instincts. Others have wondered if he possesses the mental toughness and profound ruthlessness often required to become a champion.
He wants to prove the doubters wrong. He wants this postseason, with this team, to be his reply to any and all questions.
So if he’s able, he should play. Has to play. You don’t take away a singer’s microphone because of yesterday’s headache, or because the show can be great regardless of his or her presence. It cheats principle. And it sends a wayward message.
It tells the Warriors that Durant is a luxury item, and that’s the last thing they want or need to hear.
It tells Durant the same thing, and also implies that his desires are irrelevant.
It would be foolish for the Warriors to go down this road, no matter what kind of chatter is taking place outside their walls.