In the third quarter of Game 1, with the Spurs in firm control against the Warriors, Leonard aggravated the injury when he stepped on the left foot of the Warriorsâ Zaza Pachulia. The Spurs crumbled without Leonard, squandering a 23-lead after he limped to the locker room. The Spurs followed that up by getting crushed in Game 2, a 36-point loss that Leonard watched from the team hotel.
âI think we had the game in which we felt sorry for ourselves and we struggled mentally, and now itâs over,â the Spursâ Manu Ginobili said. âIf he plays â great, because, of course, we all know what heâd give us on the court. If he doesnât, weâve got to go and compete as hard as we can and do our best game. I think we do have to believe. We have no option.â
Both teams have been off since Tuesday, an extended break that has given Leonard more time to receive treatment in hopes of returning for Game 3. He had done some light shooting at practice.
âItâs getting better,â he said. âIf I feel good, Iâm going to play.â
For Leonard, âgoodâ would be defined by not having to hobble around and launch off-balance shots, he said. He had a litmus test in mind.
âJust want to be able to push with both legs,â he said, adding: âItâs frustrating. You work all year to get to this point, and not being able to help the team win a game or just being able to play is all very frustrating.â
On Thursday, Leonard was named first-team All-N.B.A. for the second straight season. He is possibly the best two-way player in the league, and the Spurs lean on his defense as much as they do his offense. A 6-foot-7 forward, he averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists during the regular season.
He sprained his left ankle in Game 5 of the conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets. He missed Game 6, and the Spurs â with crisp ball movement and aggressive defense â were able to compensate for his absence in a 39-point win, which clinched the series.
But in some ways, that game was foolâs gold. The Warriors, with their fearsome assemblage of scorers, have taken no pity on a Kawhi-less Spurs team.
âThis thing is far from over,â the Spursâ Patty Mills said. âWe have a lot of juice still in the tank to come out, and we owe it to each other to play the right way.â
The playoffs have not been particularly kind to the Spurs, who, not so long ago, seemed primed to at least threaten the Warriors for supremacy in the West. But injuries have made the challenge even more daunting. In the conference semifinals, the Spurs lost Tony Parker, their starting point guard, for the remainder of the postseason when he ruptured a tendon in his left quadriceps. On Thursday, Parker rejoined his…