Leonard's ankle injury doomed Spurs in 113-111 loss to Warriors in Game 1

Western Conference Finals
Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors

(Warriors lead series 1-0)

Game 1: Warriors 113, Spurs 111, Sunday, Oakland, Calif.
Game 2: Tuesday, 8 p.m., Oakland
Game 3: Saturday, 8 p.m., AT&T Center
Game 4: Monday, May 22, 8 p.m., AT&T Center
*Game 5: Wednesday, May 24, 8 p.m., Oakland
*Game 6: Friday, May 26, 8 p.m., AT&T Center
*Game 7: Sunday, May 28, 8 p.m., Oakland
*If necessary

Few things in sports are more frustrating than squandering an opportunity, especially when victory seems so close at hand.

The Spurs will remember their 113-111 road loss against the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals as one that got away.

The Silver and Black led by as many as 25 points in the Sunday game, but couldn’t close the deal after Kawhi Leonard left the game in the third quarter.

“It’s very hard to react to a game like this,” veteran Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “I was just saying that I always prefer to lose by 20 than like this. We played an outstanding game for a half, and a little bit. Then they came back. They overplayed us. They were more aggressive. They made more shots.”

“If it wasn’t bad enough, we lost our best player that was struggling already with a bad ankle. It’s hard to see the positives, even though we were 20-something up. A very bad outcome of the game.”

Game 2 is at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Oakland, Calif. 

The Silver and Black were up by 21 in the third quarter when Leonard reinjured his left ankle while shooting a jumper from the corner.

TV replays showed Warriors center Zaza Pachulia stepping on Leonard’s left foot as he contested the shot near the Spurs’ bench. Pachulia was whistled for a foul on the play. Leonard said later he didn't think Pachulia was intentionally trying to injure him. 

Leonard, who fell to the floor writhing in pain, was able to get back up and made two free throws to give the Spurs a 78-55 lead with 7:55 left in the third period. He left the game after Spurs guard Danny Green was called for a foul on the Warriors’ next possession and went to the locker room with San Antonio athletic trainer Will Sevening.

Leonard never returned to the game, finishing with 26 points in 23 minutes on 7-of-13 shooting. He was 11 of 11 from the free-throw line and also had eight rebounds, three assists, and one steal. Leonard gave the Spurs a scare earlier in the third quarter when he landed on the foot of someone on his bench after hitting a 3-pointer in the corner with 9:46 left in the period. He was injured near the same spot less than two minutes later. 

There was no report from the Spurs on Leonard’s status after the game. He initially tweaked his injured ankle earlier in the game after stepping on a teammate’s foot near the bench after taking a shot.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said when he was asked about Leonard’s injury at his post-game news conference. “The game just ended. I haven’t talked to anybody. I don’t know what Kawhi’s status is. I know he got his foot stepped on again, so he hurt the same foot. We’ll see.”

Ginobili talked about the impact Leonard’s injury had on the team and the outcome of the game.

“Yeah, well, it was huge,” Ginobili said. “We need Kawhi to create, to score. It means a lot to this team, and we were doing really well. When he went down, the Warriors were starting to pick up, to feel good about themselves, to increase the pressure on everybody else. That’s when we struggled because we couldn’t have the guy that we run those plays (for) and get them off their pressure."

“So, yeah, we struggled a lot without him, and 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, so we couldn’t react to his absence.” Ginobili said.

Twitter blew up after the game, with many people speculating whether Pachulia intentionally stepped on Leonard’s foot.

Warriors forward Kevin Durant refuted those claims.

“Zaza’s not a dirty player,” Durant said. “You’ve got to time that perfectly if you want to hurt somebody. I mean, we’re not that type of team. Kawhi’s an unbelievable player and we have nothing but respect for him. We wish that he gets healthy, but we were just trying to contest a shot. Our guys were playing hard.

“It was an unfortunate situation. I wish it didn’t happen. But I don’t think it was intentional. You can’t listen to people on Twitter. They’re irrational, so I don’t know. But hopefully he plays next game and his ankle gets better, but it wasn’t intentional at all.”

Leonard sat out the Spurs’ series-clinching victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 6 last Thursday, two nights after spraining his left ankle in a Game 5 overtime win.

The Silver and Black were already shorthanded after veteran point guard Tony Parker ruptured a left quadriceps tendon in Game 2. Parker is out for the remainder of the postseason.

Golden State went on an 18-0 run after Leonard left the game, cutting San Antonio’s lead to 78-73 with 4:27 left in the third period. Curry scored 19 of his game-high 40 points in the quarter.

“We made too many mistakes,” Popovich said. “Play a team like that, can’t make the mistakes we made. I thought the rebounding hurt us. Great effort, tough loss, great opportunity and we let it slip away.”

Durant, who scored 10 consecutive points during a key stretch in the fourth quarter, finished with 24 points. Pachulia (11) was the only other Golden State player in double figures.

Golden State outscored the Spurs 58-33 after Leonard’s exit. Down 62-42 at halftime, the Warriors outscored the Silver and Black 39-28 in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 90-81 heading into the final period.

Forward LaMarcus Aldridge had another solid game for the Spurs, finishing with 28 points on 11-of-24 shooting. But he couldn't carry the team after Leonard left the game, going 2 of 9 and scoring only six points in the fourth quarter. He missed 7 of 8 shots in the final eight minutes and had a turnover Durant turned into a 3-pointer that cut San Antonio's lead to 94-88 with 7:53 remaining.

Aldridge added eight rebounds, three assists and three steals, but also had six turnovers.

Ginobili, who turns 40 in July, led the Spurs bench with 17 points. Reserve forward Jonathon Simmons finished with 12 points and knocked down 2 of 3 shots from the 3-point line.

The Warriors, 9-0 in the postseason, became the fourth team in NBA history to win a playoff game after trailing by at least 20 points at halftime.

Curry nailed 14 of 26 shots, including 7 of 16 from the 3-point line, and added seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. He also finished with four turnovers. Curry hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 106 with 1:48 left, and Draymond Green put the Warriors ahead to stay with a 3-point play 33 seconds later.

The Spurs had their chances to pull out the victory after Leonard went out, but turnovers and their inability to make stops down the stretch doomed them. San Antonio finished with 17 turnovers and Golden State had 19. The Warriors outrebounded the Silver and Black 43-37.

© 2017 KENS-TV


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