Down 3-0 in their best-of-seven Western Conference Finals series against the Golden State Warriors, it looks like the San Antonio Spurs’ chances of extending the series aren’t looking good, even if they’re going to play Game 4 in front of their home crowd.
The reason: MVP candidate Kawhi-Leonard’s sprained left ankle isn’t getting any better after he aggravated the initial injury in Game 1 of the series.
As a result, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters on Sunday that Leonard probably won’t play, even if the Spurs have their backs against the wall.
"It wouldn't make sense," Popovich told reporters.
"If he's unable to play yesterday, I don't think there's going to be a miraculous healing by tomorrow," Popovich said after the Sunday morning practice session. After he conveyed that message to the media, the Spurs officially listed Leonard as doubtful.
The Spurs will also be without veteran power forward David Lee, who suffered a left knee injury in the first quarter of Game 3 on Saturday.
San Antonio is simply a different team without Leonard. Despite holding a 20-point halftime lead and as high as a 25-point advantage against the Warriors in the third quarter of Game 1, the Spurs crumbled without their star on the floor, as the Warriors capitalized with an 18-0 run and outscored them 32-21 in the fourth to steal the win.
In Game 2, the Warriors took care of business, dominating in a 136-100 win before their 120-108 victory in Game 3 on Saturday. Leonard missed both of those games. Before Game 3, Popovich noted that it was his decision to hold Leonard out, citing that he wasn’t at full health.
Spurs guard Danny Green offered up an explanation that backed Pop’s claim.
Therefore, there is a chance that Leonard could be near full health, but his coach isn’t willing to let him take an unnecessary risk. Since Popovich has seemingly complete control of the team’s roster since he also serves as the general manager, holding Leonard out might be a way to preserve him for the start of next season.
San Antonio is protecting their best asset. Since the path past the Warriors would be daunting to begin with, winning four-straight games against them, even with Leonard, would be highly improbable.
“You take care of your players, you do what’s best,” Popovich told reporters after Game 3. “Hopefully in the short run and the long run, can match up. But sometimes you’ve got to make a tough decision. I think our philosophy has helped some players extend their careers.”
“There has to be a trust factor or it doesn’t work,” the coach continued. “(You) do what’s best for the player and for the team. You just make a decision and you move on.”
Game 4 takes place on Monday night as San Antonio will look to prolong its season in the face of major adversity.