The Spurs looked like they were on their way to upsetting the Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday, but then Kawhi Leonard reinjured his left ankle and San Antonio was pretty much toast.
The Spurs, 10-point underdogs to win the first game of the series and 9-to-1 dogs to win the series and advance to the NBA Finals, led by as many as 25 points in the first half and were up 78-55 when Leonard left the game with about 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Leonard originally hurt his ankle in Game 5 of the Spurs’ second-round series against the Rockets. He missed Game 6 of that series, although San Antonio prevailed without him to advance to the conference finals.
On Sunday, he tweaked the ankle twice in about five minutes. First, he stepped on the foot of teammate David Lee, who was on the Spurs bench. Then, defended by the Warriors’ Zaza Pachulia on a jump shot from the corner, he went down again.
Some observers wondered if Pachulia stepped into Leonard on purpose.
Worth asking again… pic.twitter.com/oW8rnXglyX
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) May 14, 2017
Leonard – the second best player in the NBA after LeBron James – had 26 points, eight rebounds and three assists when his day was done. Upon his exit, the Dubs went on an 18-0 run, and ended up winning the game, 113-111.
Leonard dismissed the notion that Pachulia did anything malicious.
“Did he step under it? Like, on purpose?” Leonard asked, per ESPN. “No. He was contesting the shot. The shot clock was coming down. I’ll have to see the play.”
Said Pachulia, “I just did what I was supposed to do and challenged his shot. I turned around, and there was a call (Pachulia was whistled for fouling Leonard on the play). I didn’t notice that he was down until I turned back, actually. So I didn’t see what happened there.”
He also said, via NBA.com’s Sekou Smith, “When you are 6-11 and you play hard you get blamed for a lot of things.”
Golden State’s Kevin Durant came to his teammate’s defense, saying “Zaza’s not a dirty player. You’ve got to time that perfectly if you want to hurt somebody. We’re not that type of team. Kawhi’s an unbelievable player. We’ve got nothing but respect for him. We wish that he gets healthy.”
We all do, because we all want to see the best basketball during the playoffs, and the best basketball in this series features Kawhi Leonard.
Game 2 comes quickly, Tuesday night. Let’s hope Kawhi is ready to go.
Las Vegas oddsmakers seem to doubt he will be, as they’ve installed Golden State as a 13-point favorite, a number that suggests Leonard will not play.
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