Kyle Korver lowered his head and then shook it, trying to find the right words. He finally settled on these.
“Saddest win ever,” Korver said.
Korver said this in an almost hushed Bulls locker room on April 28, 2012. The No. 1-seeded Bulls had just defeated the 76ers in the opening game of the 2012 playoffs, which the Bulls entered with dreams of a championship.
Instead, a nightmare played out when Derrick Rose came to a jump stop and then clutched his left knee as he rose and descended, eventually crumpling to the ground and writhing on the United Center floor. Rose had torn his anterior cruciate ligament.
The Bulls lost that series and, eventually, their championship window as Rose endured a succession of knee surgeries that eventually led to his trade to the Knicks.
Nobody is closing the Warriors’ championship window yet. Their impressively resilient Game 5 road victory Monday night sends the NBA Finals back to Oakland, Calif., and the soon-to-be-shuttered Oracle Arena for Game 6 on Thursday.
But the Rose injury immediately came to mind when Kevin Durant, who had demonstrated his astonishing scoring ability early in his return from missing a month with a calf injury, dumped the ball and fell to the court during the second quarter Monday. He clutched his right Achilles, which the Warriors fear to be torn, according to multiple outlets.
Speaking at his postgame news conference, Warriors coach Steve Kerr sounded an awful lot like Korver did seven years ago.
“It’s a bizarre feeling that we all have right now — an incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time,” Kerr said late Monday in Toronto after his team’s 106-105 victory.
Suddenly, Durant’s long-term health is the most important storyline from an absolutely breathtaking Finals that has featured oh so much: Kawhi Leonard reinserting himself back in the conversation for the NBA’s best player; the mental and physical difficulty of pulling off a three-peat; the passion of Canadian basketball fans.
Make no mistake: The ramifications of Durant’s injury will linger beyond this series, even if it travels back to Toronto for Game 7 on Sunday.
A large portion of the league operated under the assumption that Durant was open to leaving the Warriors in July in free agency. Talk of Durant joining forces with another superstar on the Knicks has persisted all season.
Now, depending on what the MRI exam reveals, there’s already some speculation Durant could exercise his $31.5 million player option for 2019-20 and rehabilitate his injury with the Warriors.
The Rose parallel isn’t merely limited to the gut punch the Bulls felt and the Warriors feel for a player who is widely recognized for his passion for the game and standing as a good teammate. Just as Rose experienced blowback for opting to sit out the entire 2012-13 season after his ACL surgery, Durant drew skepticism via social media and some reporters for sitting out Game 4.
Sadly, those who needed such a lesson were reminded of the danger in questioning any athlete’s injury. Any athlete knows his or her body best. The Warriors also showed how it’s often foolish to doubt the heart and resiliency of a champion.
Rose experienced a redemptive season with the Timberwolves in 2018-19 that featured a renaissance moment in the form of a 50-point game. The postgame reaction of the Warriors and Raptors showed everyone hopes for the same for Durant.
Basketball will be played Thursday. But as Klay Thompson so emotionally and eloquently put it late Monday, it won’t be the same without Durant.
Some things are bigger than basketball.