A playo≠ trend: Big leads and bad in­juries

WAR­RIORS 120, SPURS 108

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - TIM BON­TEMPS

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.

RON­ALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES

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.

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