Spurs look to close out Rock­ets with Leonard ail­ing

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - KRISTIE RIEKEN

HOUS­TON The San An­to­nio Spurs are a vic­tory away from elim­i­nat­ing the Hous­ton Rock­ets and ad­vanc­ing to the West­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals for the first time since win­ning the NBA ti­tle in 2014.

But en­ter­ing Thurs­day night’s Game 6 in Hous­ton there are ques­tions about whether Kawhi Leonard will be at full strength af­ter rolling his an­kle in an over­time win on Tues­day night. The Spurs’ MVP can­di­date was hurt when he stepped on James Har­den’s foot about mid­way through the third quar­ter. He played limited min­utes for the rest of reg­u­la­tion and did not play in over­time.

San An­to­nio’s All-Star said af­ter the game that it was “a lit­tle sore” and he was limp­ing. But he in­sisted that he’s fine and will be ready to go on Thurs­day.

If Leonard is still hob­bled for Game 6 it will be another blow to a team al­ready with­out Tony Parker, af­ter the vet­eran suf­fered a sea­so­nend­ing quadri­ceps in­jury in Game 2.

Leonard was prag­matic when asked if he thinks his team is in con­trol of the se­ries af­ter escaping with a win on Tues­day night.

“No,” he said. “Not in con­trol un­til we win Game 6.”

Af­ter get­ting blown out in their last trip the Hous­ton, the Spurs know elim­i­nat­ing a team with its back against the wall will be a huge task.

“It’s go­ing to be tough,” Spurs for­ward LaMar­cus Aldridge said. “They’re a great of­fen­sive team. A bunch of com­pet­i­tive guys, they play way more con­fi­dent at home ... it’s go­ing to be about tak­ing care of the ball, play­ing con­fi­dent, just try­ing to min­i­mize our mis­takes out there.”

The Rock­ets are left to pon­der their missed op­por­tu­nity af­ter fail­ing to take ad­van­tage of Leonard’s ab­sence in over­time of the 110-107 loss. Har­den was bril­liant through most of Tues­day’s game, fin­ish­ing with a triple-dou­ble — 33 points, 10 re­bounds and 10 as­sists. But he seemed to run out of gas in an over­time where he was held score­less, and had a 3-pointer which could have tied the game blocked by 39-year-old Manu Gi­no­bili just be­fore the buzzer.

“We let one slip away,” Har­den said. “Ex­e­cu­tion and re­bound­ing are prob­a­bly the two pri­mary things we let slip away in this game. We still have an op­por­tu­nity in Game 6 to go home and pro­tect home court and bring it back for Game 7.”

Har­den wasn’t the only Rocket who seemed spent late on a night when Hous­ton used just seven players. Coach Mike D’An­toni has used an eight-man ro­ta­tion through­out the play­offs, but didn’t add any­one to the mix on Tues­day in the first game since backup cen­tre Nene suf­fered a torn thigh mus­cle.

D’An­toni wasn’t sure af­ter the game if he’d tweak the ro­ta­tion in the next game.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t think about it too much on the way here, but I’ll think about it and I’ll let you know tomorrow or the next day or maybe not. I have no clue.”

Need To Know: As has been the case all se­ries, the Spurs will try to limit Hous­ton’s 3-point­ers. The Rock­ets, who set an NBA record by mak­ing 1,081 3s in the reg­u­lar sea­son, have av­er­aged 20.5 3-point­ers in their two wins and just 13 in the three losses.

Keep An Eye On: Hous­ton’s ro­ta­tion. Nene av­er­aged 17.9 min­utes a game in the team’s first nine play­off games, and at 6-foot-11 and 250-pounds he was a strong in­side pres­ence to help deal with Pau Ga­sol and Aldridge. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if D’An­toni em­ploys the seven-man ro­ta­tion on Thurs­day or if he gives sec­ond-year players Sam Dekker or Mon­trezl Har­rell a chance to con­trib­ute. At 6-8 Har­rell is un­der­sized to play cen­tre, but his ath­leti­cism helped him ex­cel when he was get­ting con­sis­tent play­ing time mid­way through the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Pres­sure Is On: Both teams. The Spurs will have to win in Hous­ton for the sec­ond time this se­ries to avoid a Game 7 in San An­to­nio. Hous­ton has to have a vic­tory in Game 6 to keep alive their hopes of reach­ing the con­fer­ence fi­nals for the sec­ond time in three years.

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