USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick discusses Game 1 of the Western Conference final and the issues the Spurs would face against the Warriors if Kawhi Leonard were to miss time with an ankle injury.
USA TODAY Sports
OAKLAND — By the time the Golden State Warriors faced their moment of truth in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday at Oracle Arena, having roared back from a 25-point deficit no one saw coming, Stephen Curry had hit plenty of shots in the cold-blooded kind of way.
There were dazzling threes, impossible twos, and everything in between as the NBA’s most dominant team found itself gasping for air against the relentless San Antonio Spurs. But after Curry drove past LaMarcus Aldridge and pulled up at the free-throw line for a shot coming off one foot, his game-winning jumper with nine seconds left was much like the Warriors’ 113-111 win itself.
Off the back iron, up in the air, and finally … through the net.
Sometimes you get the bounces. Sometimes you don’t. And with Game 2 coming Tuesday, this much is clear about a Spurs team that came so close to pulling off the series-opening stunner: They just can’t catch a break.
Kawhi Leonard is on the shelf again, this time because of the third quarter reinjuring of the same left ankle that took him out of the end of Game 5 and all of Game 6 in the semifinals against Houston. Leonard turned the ankle twice in a matter of minutes, the first time on his own and the second when he appeared to land on the foot of Warriors center Zaza Pachulia after shooting from the left corner. As the basketball-watching world saw just three minutes and nine seconds later, Leonard (26 points, eight rebounds) is their everything.
The Warriors exploded on an 18-0 run that cut San Antonio’s lead to five, and they were back in business. Curry finished with 40 points, 36 of them in the final three quarters. Kevin Durant had 12 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter. The Spurs, meanwhile, could only turn to LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points) after losing the young star in Leonard who has carried their offense all season.
Pachulia was peppered afterward with questions about whether his play was intentional, with rumblings throughout the arena that the Spurs were none too pleased.
“That’s really stupid,” Pachulia said of the accusations that it was a dirty play. “I’m not that good to do intentional stuff like that. I did my part, like I said. I had to challenge the shot, which was a handoff situation. I saw my teammate was behind the screen, and I had to challenge the shot. That’s what I did, and I turned around for the rebound and that was it. I hate anybody going down like that with an injury. I’m an athlete too, so I know how it feels (and) don’t wish that on anybody.
“I’m pretty sure we’re capable of beating anybody when healthy, so again I’m not standing for it. Wish nothing serious for him, because we are colleagues another day.”
For Leonard’s part, he downplayed the notion that it was a dirty play.
“Did he step under it – like on purpose?” Leonard said when asked the question. “No, he was contesting the shot. The shot clock was coming down. I’ll have to see the play.”
Leonard said afterward that he was unsure if he’d play in Game 2 on Tuesday.
“We’ll see tomorrow and the next day to see how I’m feeling,” he said.
MORE NBA NEWS:
The Warriors received a welcome surprise on the coaching front, as the ailing Steve Kerr was part of team meetings in the locker room before, during, and after the game while watching from the locker room. Kerr, who last coached in Game 2 of the first round against Portland on April 19 because of complications suffered from back surgery two summers ago, did not make the trip to Utah for the Warriors’ last two playoff games in the second round.
And this wasn’t a token appearance, either, as he addressed his players at halftime before yielding to acting head coach Mike Brown.
“Get your poise back,” Kerr told them, as seen on locker room cameras that were used for the ABC telecast. “Wings, run like crazy, just settle a little (and) get three stops in a row. Let’s get three stops in a row, and then the push will come from that. The pace will come from that. Settle in. We’ll be all right.”
The Warriors made their breaks from there, to be sure, but the Spurs couldn’t catch any either.
“We’ve got to move around it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the injury to his team’s two-time Defensive Player of the Year. “Our defense got a little in the mud; couldn’t get anybody to score. And they’re fairly talented, as it showed.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick on Twitter @Sam_Amick
PHOTOS: Best of the conference finals