Kawhi Leonard walked slowly and deliberately through the quiet loser’s locker room. No limp, no brace, no tape covering the sprained left ankle that buckled with 7 minutes, 53 seconds left in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ 113-111 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
In fact, the All-Star forward never deviated from his normal, pigeon-toed gait on his way to the athletic training room.
The only strangeness witnessed was the fact that the training staff sat Leonard at a table and taped up the injured ankle after the game, before the forward pulled on a Spurs sweat suit and strolled out to the team bus.
“I feel good,” Leonard said. “I’ll get back healthy. I have faith in my teammates, and we’re going to see what happens [in] Game 2.”
That’s likely going to involve Leonard playing the role of spectator instead of savior on Tuesday in what was already expected to be a lopsided series. It is now tilted heavily in favor of the host Warriors.
A league source said that Leonard would undergo an MRI on Monday morning. When the forward originally suffered the injury in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets, a source explained San Antonio’s philosophy for dealing with injuries, which dates all the way back to the early Tim Duncan years and provides something of a clue for how the Spurs might proceed with Leonard throughout this series.
In the season after San Antonio’s first championship, Duncan tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee on April 11, 2000, Game No. 78 of the season. That forced him to miss the final four games. As the Spurs prepped for the postseason, Duncan tried his best to show the staff that he could move well enough to help his team win. The problem was that a bit of loose cartilage that moved around remained in the knee and posed a risk Popovich didn’t want to take.
Popovich shut down Duncan for the postseason, and the Spurs lost an opening-round series 3-1 to the Phoenix Suns.
Leonard’s injury isn’t as significant as Duncan’s. But the source said that situation started a philosophy by Popovich of the team always striving to “do what’s best for the player” when dealing with injuries, even if it means faltering in the playoffs. In this case, it’s probably best for Leonard to sit, considering that after Game 2 on Tuesday, these teams won’t clash again until Saturday in San Antonio. That would give Leonard nearly a week to rest the sore ankle.
“Of course, it’s going to be tough,” said power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who led the Spurs with 28 points and eight rebounds. “He’s our leading scorer and our go-to guy. But guys have to step up and try to take some of that load and try to be better out there. It’s about defense right now: got to play better defense, make [fewer] mistakes, and we’ll be good.”
Shootaround (May 15) — Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics gear up for Game 7 – NBA.com