San Antonio had Golden State right where they wanted them. Gregg Popovich’s gang came out of the shoot clicking and held a 23-point lead against Golden State at Oracle Arena through the third quarter.
To that point, it was the Kawhi Leonard show. He was scoring and defending as he only he does it -- until ZaZa Pachulia conveniently, but unintentionally stepped on Leonard’s ailing left ankle and the Spurs’ go-to-guy had to leave the game with a huge lead in the third quarter.
Of course, several media outlets who live off of hyperbole and "fake news" have suggested that Leonard's ankle being stepped on as he completed his follow through on a fade away three-point attempt was no accident, but it looked like tough luck to me. And Leonard himself agreed after the game.
And inevitably, when Leonard limped off into the locker room, that’s when the bottom fell out for San Antonio and the party started for high-scoring Dub Nation.
The Warriors go on an 18-0 run from that point and eventually snatch a 113-111 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
"When Kawhi went down, the game kind of like changed...I'm just saying, " Pop facetiously said.
Some NBA TV analysts and former players thought it was a dirty play
People often debate who the NBA MVP is. By missing Game 1's last two quarters, Leonard has shown the world that he is as valuable to his team as any player in the league.
Without him breaking down the defense or drawing defenders, the Warriors outscored the Spurs 58-33. They started raining three's, hustling more and chipping away at the lead as Steph Curry (40 points) and company went for blood with Leonard ailing. The dynamics of the entire game changed.
Rallying from a 20-point halftime deficit, the third-biggest comeback in NBA history, Curry hit a 13-foot floater with nine seconds remaining to give Golden State a 113-110 lead.
54 percent of the Spurs’ shots were uncontested before Kawhi left the game. After Leonard left, Durant, who was struggling from the field with Kawhi hounding him defensively, also went bonkers and he and Curry combined for 74 points, their highest total ever as Golden State Warriors. Durant dropped 20 points in 18 minutes once Kawhi left the court.
Game 1 was pretty self-explanatory. Game 2 will be much of the same if Leonard doesn’t return to take the court and lead San Antonio. The Spurs were the underdogs coming into the series but they had a puncher’s chance of pulling off an upset with a full team of players. Leonard’s current situation changes things and makes the series much less exciting and totally predictable moving forward.