Even after Kawhi Leonard was taken out of Game 1 by a player who has a reputation around the NBA for dirty play (which Gregg Popovich listed off during a press conference), the San Antonio Spurs still nearly pulled out a win to open the Western Conference Finals.
When Zaza Pachulia just happened to undercut Kawhi Leonard while slowly closing in on him, placing a foot on an ankle that had previously been injured and even re-aggravated during the game, the dynamic of the series changed instantly. The Spurs were left with one simple path: Try to steal this one because Game 2 will be conceded so Kawhi can rest until Saturday's Game 3 in San Antonio.
The Spurs couldn't take Game 1. So with Kawhi out, Game 2 is just a formality. Pencil in the Warriors for a 2-0 lead and start prepping for Game 3 in San Antonio when a full Spurs squad gets a chance to respond, right?
Well, maybe not.
Here are five reasons that Spurs fans should tune in and have hope.
1. Pop will have a plan
The Spurs have been here before. Many thought that Game 6 in Houston would be a formality and while even Spurs fans were getting hyped for a Game 7, the Spurs blew the Rockets out on the road to close out the series.
Yes, the Golden State Warriors are a much better team, but Pop has a base strategy to work from. Expect Jonathon Simmons to start in Kawhi's place and for the Spurs offense to center around LaMarcus Aldridge, who's on the best run of his playoff career and knows what he can get against the small-ball Warriors lineup.a
We'll see what else Pop has in store for the rotation, but there's a reason that the Spurs were up 23 before Kawhi went out. Speaking of which...
2. The Spurs still nearly won Game 1
The Spurs got rattled when Kawhi went out. The Warriors caught fire, but the Spurs actually ended up building on their 20-point halftime lead despite Stephen Curry hitting everything to start the 2nd half. The Spurs played on tilt and the Warriors went on an 18-0 run. And while it looked like it would be inevitable that the Warriors would take the lead by the end of the 3rd or the start of the 4th, that didn't happen until very late in the game.
YES LA! pic.twitter.com/ppzTPHi1Cf— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) May 14, 2017
The game ended 113-111 with the Spurs having chances to tie or take the lead in the final minutes as the game went back and forth.
While the Warriors did complete a large comeback, the Spurs were game. And that's made all the more impressive by the fact that...
3. Many Spurs didn't play well in Game 1 and could turn it around in Game 2
LaMarcus Aldridge was great. Jonathon Simmons and Manu Ginobili were solid. But that's all the Spurs were getting after Kawhi left.
Patty Mills, who's played much better this playoffs, went just 1-8 from the field and 0-6 from 3-point land. And some of that was before Kawhi left with an injury. It's doubtful that he'll have the same struggles again as he's shooting 44 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3 so far during the playoffs.
Simmons and Ginobili are also likely to have more defined roles and be set on a rotation similar to what we saw in Houston, where the Spurs won't get surprised by a sudden personnel change again...
Unless Zaza feels like taking someone else out.
4. Nothing to lose
If the Spurs had nothing to lose going into Game 1 in terms of doubters for the series as a whole, that attitude is only maximized here for Game 2. Golden State is heavily favored in this game based on most Vegas odds. And the Spurs aren't just playing with nothing to lose, they're playing angry.
The Spurs players haven't responded to Zaza Pachulia's actions with the same ferocity as Coach Pop, but that feeling has no doubt resonated in the locker room. So while the Warriors home crowd is one that can carry their team, a fallen teammate might be able to do the same for the Spurs.
5. Nombre shut up...
GO SPURS GO!