OAKLAND, Calif. — San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard reinjured his left ankle Sunday during the second half of the Spurs’ 113-111 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
He is expected to undergo an MRI.
“I don’t know. The game just ended,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said when asked about the injury postgame. “I don’t know what Kawhi’s status is. I know he got his foot stepped on again. So he hurt the same foot.”
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The left ankle injury originally kept Leonard out of the Spurs’ clinching Game 6 victory over the Houston Rockets in their Western Conference semifinal series.
Then the forward tweaked the injury Sunday twice in a span of approximately five minutes; he stepped on the foot of teammate David Lee and then landed on the foot of Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, going down for the game.
“Just very painful,” Leonard said. “I tweaked it before, the last shot I shot. But it’s hard to tell right now. I definitely couldn’t go in that third quarter, with six minutes left.”
After taking a corner jumper, Leonard took a spill near the Spurs bench after landing on Pachulia’s foot with 7:54 left in the third quarter and San Antonio leading 76-55. Pachulia was whistled for a foul, and Leonard knocked down the ensuing free throws.
Leonard appeared to signal to the bench that he needed to leave the game in between his two foul shots. After Leonard connected on the free throws, Spurs athletic trainer Will Sevening walked onto the court, put an arm around the forward and escorted him to the locker room.
The club announced Leonard would not return to action.
“I just did what I was supposed to do and challenged his shot. I turned around, and there was a call,” Pachulia said. “I didn’t notice that he was down until I turned back, actually. So I didn’t see what happened there.”
Leonard dismissed the notion that his latest injury came as a result of dirty play on Pachulia’s part.
“Did he step under it? Like, on purpose?” Leonard asked. “No. He was contesting the shot. The shot clock was coming down. I’ll have to see the play.”
The Warriors, too, were asked about Pachulia’s play — and Kevin Durant defended his teammate.
“Zaza’s not a dirty player. You’ve got to time that perfectly if you want to hurt somebody,” Durant said. “We’re not that type of team. Kawhi’s an unbelievable player. We’ve got nothing but respect for him. We wish that he gets healthy. We just tried to contest a shot. Guys are playing hard. It was an unfortunate situation. I wish it didn’t happen, but I don’t think it was intentional. You can’t listen to people on Twitter; they’re irrational.”
At the time of his exit, Leonard had 26 points, eight rebounds and three assists, and the Spurs led 78-55. The Warriors went on an 18-0 run after Leonard left the game until LaMarcus Aldridge sank a jumper to snap the streak.
Leonard said he tuned in to the game from the locker room once Golden State had cut San Antonio’s lead to eight points.
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard — who will have an MRI on his left ankle — doesn’t think Warriors center Zaza Pachulia was trying to intentionally injure him when he landed on Pachulia’s foot. Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
“It was pretty tough, but I still had faith,” Leonard said. “They pulled out the last one in the fourth quarter when we were at home. So I just kept faith.”
Still, the Warriors ended up outscoring the Spurs 56-30 after Leonard’s departure.
Asked about Leonard leaving the game, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili called it “huge.”
“He means a lot to this team and we were doing really well, and when he went down, the Warriors were starting to pick up, to feel good about themselves, to increase the pressure on everybody else, and that’s when we struggled because we couldn’t have the guy that runs those plays and get them off their pressure. We struggled a lot without him, and it’s a tough break. He’s coming from an injury on the ankle and he tweaked it twice in the last minute he played, so we couldn’t react to his absence,” Ginobili said.
Leonard initially hurt his ankle in Game 5 of the conference semifinals against the Rockets on Tuesday.
A source told ESPN that Leonard could have played in Game 6 on Thursday night, but the Spurs decided they’d rather have him healthy for Sunday.
Leonard sat out much of the fourth quarter of Game 5 against Houston and didn’t take the court for overtime after he came down on the foot of James Harden while turning to run up the court with 5:37 left in the third quarter.
Leonard said his spirits are “good” after this latest setback.
The plan now is to “get back healthy,” Leonard said. “I have faith in my teammates, and we’re going to see what happens in Game 2.”
San Antonio could head into Game 2 without Leonard and starting point guard Tony Parker, who ruptured a quadriceps tendon in the conference semifinals. But inside the locker room, the team remained encouraged by the opportunity versus the Warriors.
“You obviously want to be as healthy as you can,” guard Patty Mills said. “I think the best thing that we can do is not get discouraged from that, and understand that we’ve still got an amazing opportunity with the guys that are able to go. I think we’ve done a decent job of not being discouraged. We can’t cry about it. It’s not gonna help us at all. We’ve got to dig deep, dig even deeper with the guys that we do have, find answers, play hard and play smart, especially here on the road. We’ve got the guys to be able to get the job done. We’ve just got to do it all together.”