The Warriors forward will be ruled out with his right “mild calf strain” for at least Game 1 of the WCF. He will be re-evaluated on Thursday and is “unlikely” to play Game 2.
Durant suffered the injury during Game 5 of Golden State’s Western Conference Semi-Final matchup against the Houston Rockets. In the third quarter, Durant connected on a baseline pull-up jump shot and ran back for the defensive possession when he started clutching at the back of his right lower leg. KD exited the game and an MRI the next morning confirmed the initial diagnosis of a strained right calf.
The main calf muscles consist of the gastrocnemius (gastrocs) which has a lateral/outer and medial/inner head and the soleus which is flat and broad. The gastrocs sits superficially (on the surface) and the soleus lies underneath this muscle. The primary action of both muscles is plantarflexion of the ankle joint (pushing down the foot) but the gastrocs also has a connection to the knee joint which allows it to flex the knee. In basketball, plantarflexion is essential for all running, jumping and other explosive movements of the leg.
MRI studies have found the medial head of the gastrocs to be the most common site of injury. The most common mechanism of injury for calf sprains are a sudden burst of acceleration which is how Durant appeared to suffer his injury. Looking at the footage, KD appears to feel the calf injury after pushing off his right leg as he runs back to play defense. With the leg extended, this is more likely to implicate the gastrocs because this muscle is more on stretch due to its origin at the knee joint.
There are multiple factors that may have contributed to Durant’s current injury. Since KD’s Game 5 explosion against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, he has averaged 43 minutes a game. This is a significant uptick compared to his 34 minutes a game he played during the regular season – nearly a 30% increase. When players take on larger minutes and muscle adaptation cannot keep up with the overload then injury can occur. Consider Chris Paul’s hamstring strain in the 2018 Western Conference Finals – the result of increased minutes in the Playoffs that exceeded his average time playing during the regular season.
Two other factors that may have lead to KD’s injury are age and injury recurrence. Calf sprains become more prevalent with age (KD is now 30) and KD previously suffered a mild calf strain in January 2018. For nearly all injuries, previous injury is the largest risk factor for future injury.
KD was able to return-to-play in 6 days after his previous calf strain. The former Texas star will exceed his previous timeline if he is unable to play in Game 2. As Durant remains day-to-day, he looks likely to be ready for Game 3. Expect KD to play a lower number of minutes when he first returns.
Brukner & Khan, 2017. Clinical Sports Medicine 5th ed