Photo: Tim Warner (Getty)

In an ordinary Finals, the team in Golden State’s position, down 2-1 after dropping Game 3 at home, would be in real trouble, needing to win three out of four and at least once on the road to avoid elimination. Hell, the Warriors might even be in real trouble! Or maybe they aren’t the Warriors, but will be at some point in the next (up to) four games, in which case these results don’t mean much, but might later.

The quantum uncertainty that has dogged these Finals is the most annoying thing about them; appropriately, it’s because of Kevin Durant. Are the terms and rosters that brought the series to this point—with the Raptors leading 2-1 and seeming like the comprehensively superior team, the second half of Game 2 notwithstanding—the terms and rosters that will define it? Or are they just some flimsy transient provisional state, the setting of the table and the negotiating of odds before Durant returns and the real series begins? Is what you’re seeing real in any way that matters to what will come next?

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Update: Durant is out for at least Game 4.

The ordinary mode of watching an NBA playoff series is, you absorb the present game and its result, and analyze it, looking for trends that might predict the next game; the development of those trends and the teams’ respective responses to them are the connective tissue of the series. The unclear status of Durant’s calf injury and readiness or unreadiness to play throws all that out. For example: Golden State has struggled like hell to score with Andre Iguodala on the floor in the past two games (he posted a ghastly 98.4 offensive rating in 30 minutes of playing time in Game 3 and an identical 98.4 in 28 minutes of Game 2); will the Warriors who come into Game 4 be the same Warriors who urgently need a tactical solution to this problem, or will they be a version of the Warriors that can simply plug one of the greatest scorers in the history of the sport into their rotation and turn pretty much every one of their five-man lineups into an offensive powerhouse? After a down performance in Game 2, Toronto’s Pascal Siakam got back to dominating in Game 3, posting 18 efficient points, nine rebounds, and six assists; the Raptors outscored the Warriors by 22 points in his 39 minutes of action, the best plus-minus figure posted by any player in the game. Can the Warriors cobble together an answer for him out of their assortment of limited bigs, none of whom can resolve the team’s desperate need for scoring punch, or will they magically become a version of the team that can have Kevin freaking Durant take on the job?

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Any NBA Finals matchup could be borked up by an injury to an elite player that left his status for the rest of the series uncertain, but the makeup of the Warriors makes Durant’s absence uniquely awkward. The Raptors, by contrast, would be definitively dead against any plausible Finals opponent they had to face without Kawhi Leonard; the only question worth asking after each game would be “Will Kawhi be back next game?” That’s normal. The Warriors are not: They were champions before Durant; they feature multiple genuinely elite players even without him, including, in Steph Curry, one of the extremely tiny number of active players who can make any kind of plausible claim to being his superior; they played some of their best basketball in his absence just a couple weeks ago. And, on a more fundamental level, Durant has seemed superfluous and excessive pretty much since the moment he arrived in Golden State. It is not just theoretically possible that the Warriors could win the NBA Finals without Kevin Durant. They’ve done it before.

Moreover, defeating them without Durant might still be a major accomplishment! If he’s superfluous and excessive, the irreproducible result of a never-to-be-repeated salary-cap fluke, then mightn’t beating the Durant-less Warriors in the Finals be ... beating them fair and square? But also, more annoyingly: Is that a question worth thinking about, or is Durant going to come back for the rest of the series, revert the Warriors to the absurd death squad they’ve been in the past two Finals, and render it moot? If he doesn’t, and the Raptors win, do they get the asterisk for beating the Warriors without Durant, or do the Warriors get asterisks for titles they won with him?

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All of this is dumb and annoying and I hate it. But it’s the shit that floods into the void where actual basketball takeaways and analyses, called into being by the certainty that this is the series and this is what it will be, would go in a Finals not suspended in this weird limbo by Kevin Durant. What I am saying here is: Make up your mind, asshole! Either come back and play in Game 4, or go to hell!