The San Antonio Spurs were without star forward Kawhi Leonard in crunch time of their Game 5 win over the Houston Rockets after Leonard rolled his ankle on a fluky play in the third quarter. The Spurs on Wednesday officially listed him as questionable for a potential closeout Game 6, and head coach Gregg Popovich termed his All-Star forward a game-time decision on Thursday afternoon:
Coach Pop says Kawhi will be a game-time decision: "I want to take as much time as possible and see what he feels like."
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) May 11, 2017
Leonard, however, has said he’ll be back for Thursday night.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 10, 2017
Leonard suffered the injury midway through the quarter after inadvertently stepping on James Harden’s foot:
Leonard still played 38 minutes on the night, and actually stayed in the game after the injury until the fourth quarter. Popovich inserted Leonard back into the game for a three-minute stretch midway through the fourth, and again for a short stint late in the quarter, but Leonard was severely limited, and Popovich kept him on the bench for the final possession of regulation and overtime.
“We let him play a little while just to see what it would be like,” Popovich said after the game. “But it was obvious he couldn’t go.”
Leonard came back into the game with 2:59 remaining in the fourth, and assisted on Patty Mills’ 3-pointer on his first offensive possession since returning. With around a minute left, he missed a reaching left-handed layup. After Manu Ginobili tied the game at 101 with 34 seconds left, Houston called a timeout. Popovich took Leonard out of the game for the defensive possession, and kept him out for the Spurs’ final offensive possession with the game tied and 11 seconds on the clock. San Antonio put the ball in Mills’ hands with Leonard out, and Mills didn’t even get a shot off:
Leonard had a towel around his neck during OT, and was limping around the bench area during timeouts. He had been using a resistance band to either test or loosen up the ankle on the bench, but he and the Spurs staff eventually decided it wasn’t worth having Leonard on the court, even as a decoy.
He labored to the locker room after the win with his hand on the shoulder of Ginobili, who blocked Harden’s potential game-tying three to preserve the win.
— Jordan Tomiyama (@Jttomiyama) May 10, 2017
“It’s a little sore,” Leonard admitted after the game, before saying, “I’m gonna be able to play.”
Popovich said he was unsure of the severity of Leonard’s injury, despite Leonard’s claim that it would not keep him out of the lineup. Spurs forward Danny Green, who stepped up in Leonard’s absence in overtime with seven huge points, was asked whether Leonard was in pain, and said, “You can’t ever really tell with him, his expression never changes.”
The two teams will travel to Houston for Game 6, where the Spurs will have a chance to close out the series and advance to take on the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals. Game 7 would be Sunday in San Antonio.