A playo≠ trend: Big leads and bad injuries
WARRIORS 120, SPURS 108
san antonio — Before Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Saturday night, San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich was asked how he expected his team to play without star Kawhi Leonard after a disappointing performance in Game 2.
“I hired some soothsayers, I channeled Rasputin, and all sorts of things,” Popovich joked, “so I think we’re ready to go.”
Popovich would’ve been better off finding someone who could conjure up prime versions of Tim Duncan, David Robinson and George Gervin to have at his disposal instead.
Popovich’s team acquitted itself well for most of three quarters Saturday night, but it might take that kind of star
power to beat these Golden State Warriors with Leonard remaining out because of a sprained left ankle. Instead, the Warriors pulled away to claim a 120-108 victory and a commanding 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series. The contest served up another reminder — with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in the stands watching — of just how underwhelming these NBA playoffs have been.
As expected, the Spurs played much better in this one than they did in Game 2, when they trailed by 41 points and never led as the Warriors stomped them from the first minute to the last in embarrassing fashion. But even a vintage performance from aging icon Manu Ginobili, who had 21 points in 18 minutes off the bench, wasn’t enough to offset the loss of Leonard, perhaps the best two-way player in the NBA.
No one enjoyed Leonard’s absence more than Kevin Durant, who cruised to 33 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes, making 11 of his 19 field goal attempts and looking capable of getting any shot he wanted. It was Durant who scored eight of the 12 points Golden State put together in a 12-0 run late in the second quarter that broke a tie at 49 and helped the Warriors go into halftime with a 64-55 lead. They would not trail in the second half.
San Antonio kept hanging around, remaining within singledigits into the early stages of the fourth quarter. But while the Spurs managed to stay competitive, without Leonard they simply lacked the offensive firepower to keep up with keep up with the star-laden Warriors with their lone all-star in street clothes.
Saturday night’s game continued what has become a consistent theme throughout these playoffs: an underwhelming spectacle marred by the absence of a star player. Since these playoffs began, a seemingly never-ending list of big-name players — from Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo to Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin to Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry to Utah Jazz guard George Hill and center Rudy Gobert — have either missed games or, in some cases, entire series.
That trend continued in both conference finals matchups, with Leonard sitting out of the past 21/2 games of this series — and seemingly likely to sit out of Monday’s Game 4 — and with the news that came down Saturday night that Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas will miss the remainder of the postseason after aggravating a preexisting hip injury in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 130-86 demolition of Boston in Game 2 Friday night.
Thomas, who has led Boston this far despite playing through the tragic death of his sister in a car accident and undergoing multiple dental procedures throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs, initially suffered what the team called a right femoral-acetabular impingement in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 15.
And while the Cavaliers were already an overwhelming favorite to dismiss the Celtics after winning the first two games of the series in Boston by wide margins, it’s now almost impossible to see the Celtics winning either of the upcoming two games in Cleveland — let alone somehow winning four of the next five games to reach the NBA Finals.
Combined with Leonard’s absence, it now seems exceedingly likely both conference finals could end in sweeps — meaning there would be a nine-day gap between their close and the start of the NBA Finals on June 1.
And given the lack of suspense this postseason has offered so far, it seems likely that the best outcome for the NBA at this point would be for both series to end in four games, assuming everyone from the Cavaliers and Warriors can escape from the final three games without any serious injuries.
That would set up the only thing that could save these playoffs from being a total dud: a third straight matchup between the Warriors and Cavaliers for the right to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy — something that’s never happened before in league history.
Kevin Durant (33 points) rises for a shot in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. Golden State won, 120-108, for a 3-0 series lead.