SAN ANTONIO - While Spurs Nation was looking forward to the series shifting to the AT&T Center along with Kawhi Leonard's return from injury, their hopes were dashed when Gregg Popovich announced before Game 3 that Kawhi's ankle injury would keep him out of yet another game.
Can the Spurs still rally with the home crowd behind them?
Update: Spurs All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard will not play in Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals on Saturday night, coach Gregg Popovich said at the team's shootaround Saturday morning.
"Kawhi is out," Popovich said. "I spoke with Kawhi. I speak to everybody. We all speak about it. In the end, I guess it's my decision. He's not thrilled that he's not playing, but he's not ready, so we're not going to play him."
Popovich would not say whether Leonard would play in Game 4 on Monday night. Jonathon Simmons will take Leonard's place in the starting lineup, Popovich said.
Western Conference Finals
Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors
(Warriors lead series 2-0)
Game 1: Warriors 113, Spurs 111, Sunday, Oakland, Calif.
Game 2: Warriors 136, Spurs 100, Tuesday, Oakland
Game 3: Saturday, 8 p.m., AT&T Center
Game 4: Monday, 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
A loss is a loss but some defeats can be so disheartening that they shake a team to its core, sapping players’ confidence, energy and spirit.
As the Spurs probably would attest, not all losses are created equal.
The 113-111 punch to the gut they took from the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday is a good case in point, draining the Silver and Black physically, mentally and emotionally.
The Spurs led by 23 when All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard left the game after reinjuring his sprained left ankle with nearly eight minutes left in the third quarter. The Warriors got back in the game with an 18-0 run and won the series opener in the final minute.
Still reeling from the loss, and admittedly feeling sorry for themselves, the Silver and Black were trounced by 36 points in Game 2 on Tuesday.
"We had a bad outing in Game 2," coach Gregg Popovich said Saturday. "It was embarrassing. It's not who we are, so we'll see how we come out tonight."
With Golden State up 2-0, the Spurs will have no margin of error when they host the Warriors in Game 3 on Saturday. Tipoff is at 8 p.m.
A loss would push the Silver and Black to the brink of elimination. No NBA ever has won a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-0.
“We’ll either come out and win playing Spurs basketball, or we’ll lose playing Spurs basketball,” point guard Patty Mills said Friday. “This thing is far from over. We have a lot of juice still in the tank to come out and owe it to each other to play the right way. So, believe, confidence, all that stuff, is still there because this is far from over.”
Leonard will not play in Game 3, Popovich announced Saturday after the team's shootaround. Leonard's status aside, the Spurs acknowledged that they would obviously have to play significantly better than they did in Game 2 to have a chance Saturday night.
Led by All-Stars Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, the Warriors are two victories away from earning their third consecutive berth in the NBA Finals.
Veteran guard Manu Ginobili was asked Friday what the mindset of the team was, considering Leonard was questionable to play.
“The same way you face every game,” Ginobili said. “You hope that he’s ready and he can help us. If he doesn’t, we’ll try to face the game as if it’s a Game 7. We know going down 3-0 would be tough to overcome and Game 3 is huge.
“We had a tough one in Game 2. We struggled in multiple ways. We really need to take care of the next one.”
Leonard, one of three finalists for the league’s MVP award, did not participate in the Spurs’ only workout since they returned from the Bay Area in California.
The team took the day off Wednesday and practiced Thursday.
“He shot,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, when asked how much court time Leonard had put in this week.
The team was off again Friday, but Leonard, Ginobili, Mills and coach Gregg Popovich were made available for media interviews.
Leonard said his status is “day to day.”
Asked how much pain he was experiencing, Leonard replied: “I’m not sure. I mean, it’s still not ready. It’s just questionable for tomorrow. I could be feeling way better. So, we’ll see tomorrow.”
Leonard said he would have “a lot of input” in the decision on whether he plays in Game 3.
“If I feel good, I’m going to play,” he said.
Leonard is averaging 27.7 points on 52.5 shooting, 7.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists in the playoffs. While he has taken over the brunt of the playmaking duties in point guard Tony Parker’s absence, Leonard is still the team’s defensive anchor.
Parker was lost for the remainder of the postseason when he ruptured a left quadriceps tendon against Houston in Game 2 of the conference semifinals.
Durant left no doubt Friday what he thought about Leonard’s availability for Game 3.
“He’s going to play for sure,” Durant said. “I’m sure he’s going to play. Game 3 at home, he’s had a few days rest on that ankle. I know 100 percent sure he’s going to play. I haven’t talked to anybody, but that’s just my gut.
“They’re a way better team, obviously, with him on the court. They pose a different threat. We’re excited to play. They’re excited to play. So, it should be a fun matchup.”
Jonathon Simmons, who has given the Spurs a spark in the playoffs with his aggressive play at both ends of the court, will start in Leonard's place. Simmons drew kudos from Popovich after finishing with a team-high 22 points and playing tough defense in Game 2
Mills, who has started at point guard, was steadfast in his belief that the Spurs will bounce back at home. Game 4 is also at the AT&T Center, tipping off at 8 p.m. Monday.
“Yeah, for sure we would obviously like to be two up or somewhere like that instead of being two down,” Mills said. “But we’re all right. We’re in a spot where we have an opportunity, so, definitely, belief is still there, confidence is still there. We just need to show it, and we didn’t show it in Game 2.
“We have an opportunity here at home to come out and play with passion and play hard. We earned that right. We respect each other so much that we deserve to come out and play hard and play Spurs basketball.”
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