On Thursday night, the San Antonio Spurs cruised past the Houston Rockets on the road in an 114-75 win in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. The win secured a spot in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. This was accomplished without the services of star forward Kawhi Leonard, who sat out the contest due to an ankle injury that he suffered in Game 5 of the series.
This won’t be the case for the Spurs on Sunday afternoon in Game 1 against the Warriors, as the San Antonio Express-News is reporting that head coach Gregg Popovich confirmed that Kawhi Leonard will play in the contest after being a full participant in Saturday’s practice.
Pop said Kawhi is going to play tomorrow. He said he fully participated in today’s practice.
— Melissa Rohlin (@melissarohlin) May 13, 2017
It is believed that Kawhi Leonard was available to play in Game 6 against the Rockets, but the Spurs had decided to sit him in order to have him healthy for Sunday. Kawhi Leonard had suffered the injury midway through the third quarter after he accidentally stepped on Rockets’ All-Star guard James Harden’s foot as he was attempting to get back in transition after a stolen pass from teammate Patty Mills.
Kawhi Leonard remained in the game once he was subbed back in later in the period and played in the fourth quarter. However, Leonard’s play was hampered by the injury, which led to him being held out of overtime where the Spurs were able to edge out a win.
The return of Kawhi Leonard should provide a huge boost to the Spurs given that he’s been their biggest offensive threat. Leonard has been the primary scoring punch for San Antonio through the first two rounds of the playoffs, averaging a team-best 27.8 points on 52.4 percent shooting from the field and 47.1 percent from beyond the arc along with 7.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.7 steals in 11 games played.
The Spurs have benefitted greatly from Kawhi Leonard’s play by possessing the third-best playoff net rating (6.8) and offensive rating (112.9) in the NBA in the postseason. In 12 total playoff games, San Antonio notched more than 100 points nine times, while Kawhi Leonard put up at least 30 points on four occasions.
This will all be put to the test against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, which will be the first matchup between the teams in the playoffs since the 2013 Western Conference semifinals, when the Spurs won that series 4-2. Things are drastically different this time around for each organization with both being powerhouses in the NBA as perennial title contenders.
San Antonio had much success in the regular season against Golden State, cruising to a pair of wins in three total meetings between the two teams. They grabbed wins on each franchise’s home court, with the Warriors taking the final matchup in late March, as each contest saw the winner post a double-digit margin of victory.
The defending Western Conference champions are playing at their peak level on both ends of the floor, entering the series leading all teams in the playoffs, averaging 115.3 points and 27.4 assists per game, while forcing opponents to shoot 41.3 percent from the field.
The Spurs will likely look to lean on Kawhi Leonard more offensively with Tony Parker being out for the rest of the playoffs with a ruptured left quadriceps tendon, suffered in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinals matchup against the Rockets.
Despite LaMarcus Aldridge’s struggles in the postseason, he put together his best performance in the close-out Game 6 where he finished with a double-double, scoring a game-leading 34 points on an efficient 16-of-26 shooting from the field, and a team-best 12 rebounds.
With Leonard not expected to be hindered by the ankle injury, the Spurs will have their eyes on attempting to upend the Warriors beginning on Sunday.
[Featured Image by Eric Gay/AP]