TORONTO • A script-defying National Basketball Association Finals continued on Monday when the Golden State Warriors welcomed Kevin Durant back from a month-long absence, watched in horror as he injured himself after a storybook start - but still managed to keep this series going.
Durant had 11 points, but lasted only 12 minutes in his comeback from a calf strain before suffering an Achilles' heel injury, with multiple media outlets reporting he had ruptured the tendon.
However, the Warriors managed to pull themselves together after his departure, digging out a 106-105 victory over the Toronto Raptors in the face of elimination in Game 5.
The win narrowed the Raptors' series lead to 3-2 and prevented the hosts from clinching the first league championship in the franchise's 24-year history and the first by a Canadian team in front of an expectant sell-out crowd.
Yet the two-time defending NBA champions could scarcely celebrate.
An emotional Bob Myers, the team's president of basketball operations, said of the decision to clear Durant to play: "I don't believe there's anybody to blame, but I understand in this world, and if you have to, you can blame me.
"He loves to play basketball and people that questioned whether he wanted to get back to this team were wrong. He's one of the most misunderstood people, a good teammate, a good person. It's not fair."
The All-Star forward, who left the Scotiabank Arena on crutches, had been out since May 8, yet Myers claimed he was not rushed back and that it was a "collaborative decision" to start him.
Said Warriors coach Steve Kerr: "I just told the team I don't know what to say, because on the one hand, I'm so proud of them, just the amazing heart and grit that they showed, and on the other hand, I'm just devastated for Kevin.
"So it's a bizarre feeling that we all have right now - an incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time."
The way Durant's leg buckled underneath him prompted the home support to cheer wildly before a few Toronto players stood up to shush the crowd.
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry defended the reaction as down to the fans not "knowing of the significance of the injury".
The All-Star said: "In this league, we're all brothers, and it's a small brotherhood and you never want to see a competitor like him go down."
The injury overshadowed near-heroics by Kawhi Leonard, who scored 10 of his team-high 26 points in a fourth-quarter flurry.
But late three-pointers from Stephen Curry, who led all scorers with 31 points, and Klay Thompson, who added 26, combined with a defensive stop on Toronto's final possession, allowed the visitors to escape with an improbable victory.
The Warriors survived by making 20 three-pointers - the second most scored in an Finals game - but Thompson could not crack a smile.
The All-Star guard said: "It's very deflating. It's hard to even celebrate this win. For (Durant) to put his health on the line to come back and compete at the highest level - he's one of the best to ever do it and we were trying to win this for him."
In an Instagram post later, Durant said he was "hurting deep in the soul right now", but insisted that "seeing my brothers get this win" infused him with "new life".
The series returns to Oakland for Game 6 tomorrow, with the Oracle Arena hosting its final NBA game.
BLOOMBERG, NY TIMES