It is put-up-or-shut-up time for San Antonio when the Spurs face the red-hot Golden State Warriors on Saturday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.
The Spurs will have to do it without star forward Kawhi Leonard, who will miss a second straight game because of his left ankle injury.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made the announcement during Saturday morning’s shootaround, telling reporters he made the decision to hold out Leonard.
“In the end, I guess it’s my decision,” Popovich told reporters. “He’s not thrilled that he’s not playing, but he’s not ready.”
San Antonio is trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven series and has looked completely lost after Leonard reinjured his left ankle midway through the third quarter of Game 1. The Spurs were up by as many as 25 points in that contest before losing 113-111 and then, with Leonard unavailable because of the injury, were steamrolled 136-100 in Game 2.
Both of those games were in Oakland, and the Spurs are hoping that the series shift to the Alamo City will change the momentum even without Leonard for Game 3.
Leonard originally sustained the ankle injury in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets. He is averaging 27.7 points on 52.5 percent shooting, to go along with 7.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists in the postseason.
Leonard said Friday at the Spurs’ shootaround that he would be involved in the decision on his playing status.
“I will have a lot of input,” Leonard said. “If I feel good, I’m going to play. Part of that is just seeing if I can run and at least be myself on the court. I don’t want to hobble around or shoot off-balance shots. I just want to be able to push with both legs.”
The Warriors expected Leonard to play Saturday and were readying to handle the boost he and the change of venue could give the Spurs.
“I’m 100 percent sure he’s going to play,” Golden State’s Kevin Durant said after practice Friday. “I haven’t talked to anybody, but that’s just my gut. It’s Game 3 at home, and he’s got a few days of rest on that ankle. They’re a way better team, obviously, with him on the court. They pose a different threat.”
Lost in all the talk about Leonard’s injury is Golden State’s overall excellent play, especially in Game 2, and the Warriors’ ability to step things up when needed. Golden State has won all 10 of its games in the postseason, sweeping Portland and Utah and now taking the first two games from San Antonio.
Warriors acting coach Mike Brown was happy to see his team stroll to an easy win, but understands that things are going to be a lot more difficult moving forward. Game 4 will also be in San Antonio, on Monday, and two Spurs wins would put the series back on track.
“Steve (Kerr) told our guys before Game 2 that we’ve got to come out and play with a sense of urgency from the beginning,” Brown said of his ailing boss’ address to the team in the locker room before the game. “Give all of our guys credit. That was the message to the team afterward, too, going into Game 3.
“Think Game 1 was tough?” Brown added. “Oh, down in San Antonio, it’s going to be more than a dogfight. Game 3 is going to be tough for us.”
Not everything has gone the Warriors’ way in this series. San Antonio outrebounded Golden State 49-40 in Game 2, and the Spurs’ 22 offensive rebounds were the most the Warriors have surrendered in any game this season. San Antonio also had a significant rebounding advantage in the first two quarters of Game 1 before Leonard’s injury.
Golden State’s Andre Iguodala (left knee soreness) and Zaza Pachulia (right heel contusion) are listed as questionable for Saturday’s Game 3. Iguodala participated in practice Friday and appears closer to a return than Pachulia at this point.