Posted on May 14, 2017, by Travis Pulver
Without Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs were still enough to take down the Houston Rockets. But the Golden State Warriors are much better than the Rockets are. The Spurs would need Leonard if they were going to overcome the odds (which were heavily in favor of Golden State) and win against the Warriors.
At the end of the first half of Game One Sunday afternoon, the Spurs were on track to hand the Warriors their first loss of the postseason. San Antonio’s defense was on point, the offense was scoring, and they took a 20-point lead, 62-42, into the break. But then the worst thing that could happen to the Spurs happened—Leonard rolled his ankle.
At the end of the first half of Game One Sunday afternoon, it appeared as if everything was going to work out for the Spurs. San Antonio’s defense was on point, the offense was scoring, and they took a 20-point lead, 62-42, into the break. But then the worst thing that could happen to the Spurs happened—Leonard rolled his ankle.
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Yes, that ankle.
It happened early in the third quarter. The injury was tweaked after he took a shot on the perimeter and stepped on the foot of David Lee, who was sitting on the bench. He stayed in the game but a couple minutes later he took a shot in almost the exact same spot—and this time came down on the foot of Warriors center Zaza Pachulia.
Once was bad enough, but twice—he was done. As it turned out, so were the Spurs.
Golden State would be expected to come out hard in the second half after getting embarrassed in the first, and they did. But the Spurs weathered the storm in the first few minutes and even extended the lead to 23-points before Leonard went down.
But then Leonard went down, the Warriors came alive, and the Spurs forgot how to play basketball.
Golden State did exactly what they should after the opposing team loses its best player—they attacked. An 18-0 run to close the deficit to just five points with over four minutes left in the third. By time the final period rolled around the Spurs managed to stretch the lead back out to nine points, 90-81.
But the blood was in the water and the Warriors were ready to go in for the kill. A Kevin Durant shot erased the deficit and gave the Warriors a 101-100 lead with 4:09 to play. Draymond Green ended up giving the Warriors the lead for good with 1:15 left to play.
Patty Mills would make a free throw in the final moments of the game to end the scoring, 113-111 in favor of Golden State.
With Leonard, the Spurs were doing just fine and had outplayed the Warriors. But once he was out—well, the Warriors outscored San Antonio 58-33 after Leonard left the game.
“It’s a tough break. He’s coming from an injury on that ankle and he tweaked it twice in the last minute he played,” Manu Ginobili said. “So, we couldn’t react to his absence.”
The early word on Leonard is that the injury is very painful but Game Two has not been ruled out just yet.
After the game, the Warriors were asked the usual type of questions when an injury like Leonard’s occurs—was it intentional? Pachulia’s teammates defended him and said he wouldn’t do something like that. Pachulia rejected the notion as well.
“You’ve got to time that perfectly if you want to hurt somebody,” Durant said during the postgame press conference via SBNation. “We’re not that type of team. You can’t listen to people on Twitter. They’re irrational.”
Leonard said he didn’t believe the play was dirty.
Steph Curry overcame a slow start to lead all scorers with 40 points on the night. Kevin Durant chipped in 34 and Pachulia added 11. Leonard had 26 points before being forced out of the game. LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 28 points and Manu Ginobili chipped in 17 off the bench.
When he injured the ankle against Houston, the Spurs had a little cushion since they were up in the series. But that is not the case this time. While they could survive against Houston short-handed, the final 19-minutes of Game One makes it hard to believe the Spurs can win a game without Leonard.
San Antonio fans will hope for the best when their team takes the court Tuesday night at 9 PM ET on ESPN for Game Two.