It’s clear as day that Leonard’s absence turns the Spurs into a team without a hope of stopping the Warriors. So few teams have a chance, period, much less when you remove their MVP candidate who led San Antonio on both ends.
In Game 2, the Warriors turned into the behemoth of a team that we see from them here and there, rolling over the Spurs without an ounce of mercy. They scored 136 points on 56 percent shooting with 18 made threes; the Spurs could have had two Kawhis, and they might not have been able to stop that.
When the Warriors play like that, you shrug and move on. Had Leonard not been injured, though, the Spurs would have still lost Game 2 but been fine with their Game 1 victory. Maybe Golden State would have really cut into the lead in Game 1, but without Leonard’s injury, it wouldn’t have won. It was a factor in the loss; it was the factor that saw San Antonio fall apart.
Instead, we begin Game 3 with the Spurs needing four wins in five games against a team on the best three-year run in NBA history. (No team has ever won 207 total games in three consecutive seasons like Golden State has.) If they were tied at one game each with two at home coming up, we would all be glued to the television set during Games 3 and 4, even if Golden State ended up taking them both. Now, even with Leonard returning, there’s a sense that it might not matter.
Even if Leonard returns in Game 3, as it seems like he will but has been far from confirmed, there’s no guarantee he’s 100 percent. The problem with ankle injuries is that they nag and they’re easy to re-aggravate. Leonard starting Game 3 on Saturday after a solid three days of rest would be a relief for San Antonio, but it’s no guarantee that the shellacking they were laying on the Warriors in Game 1 will return.
This postseason has been mediocre at best so far, giving us great moments but also a painful number of blowouts. Leonard’s absence turned a series that should have been a bright spot between the only two 60-win teams in the league into another grinding inevitability. Blame Zaza Pachulia, blame Gregg Popovich for not taking out Leonard sooner, blame bad luck, blame whatever. The reality is that had the Spurs won Game 1, a series that was resoundingly picked in one team’s favor would have at least been interesting.
Instead, we get 36-point blowouts.