But even the Spurs know that beating Houston on the road in a series clincher without those two stars is a far different task than the one they face on Tuesday night against the Golden State Warriors with Leonard and Parker on the sideline.
“I understand the Warriors are a very talented team, so we’re going to have to be really sharp tomorrow,” forward Pau Gasol said. “We’ve got to limit our mistakes because those guys really make you pay. They have so many weapons that the game could swing in a heartbeat, as we experienced.”
Leonard’s injury when he landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot and turned his already tender left ankle severely altered Game 1 and possibly the entire series. Golden State rallied from 23 points down after Leonard left to win 113-111 Sunday as the Spurs struggled on both ends of the court without one of the game’s best two-way players.
Leonard had an MRI on Monday and will not play in Game 2, leaving the Spurs angry at what they considered a dirty play by Pachulia and frustrated by their predicament.
“Yesterday in itself was a roller coaster, a lot of different emotional things going on,” guard Danny Green said. “The playoffs for us have been rough. No one will feel bad for us. We have to continue to go out there and play. There’s no Tony, no Kawhi as of right now. I felt like we’ve been to hell and back in just three hours. We’ll figure it out.”
The Warriors are expecting just that after watching role player Jonathan Simmons fill in with 18 points and stellar defense in the 114-75 win at Houston last Thursday and knowing how prepared and professional Gregg Popovich-coached teams usually are.
“We have no intention of letting our guard down,” said Warriors big man David West, who played for the Spurs last season. “We know that they’re very capable and that system is as strong as it’s been. There is no deviation in terms of our attack and our game plan. We’ll go out and try to protect our home court.”
Golden State dominated Game 1 after Leonard went down, outscoring the Spurs 58-33 to earn the comeback win. San Antonio shot just 37 percent after the injury, with twice as many turnovers as assists. The Warriors, who struggled to score in the first half, shot 58 percent after Leonard left.
But with time to prepare a new game plan without Leonard, the Warriors are expecting a different type of challenge in Game 2.
“It makes them less predictable,” Golden State forward Draymond Green said. “Obviously, when Kawhi’s on the floor, you know it’s going to run through him. So it makes it a lot less predictable. But I think we come out on edge from the jump, play our game, and we’ll be just fine.”
The Warriors are dealing with their own injuries although they aren’t as significant as missing an MVP candidate in Leonard. Forward Andre Iguodala was listed as questionable because of a sore left knee that limited him to 10 minutes in Game 1. Acting coach Mike Brown said he noticed Iguodala hobbling so he was cautious not to overuse him.
Iguodala had an MRI but the results weren’t yet available when practice ended.
Coach Steve Kerr was back on the court for the Warriors’ light workout — they met, watched film and ran through a few sets on the floor — after attending the game and providing a halftime talk with his team down by 20. Recovering from a follow-up procedure May 5 at Duke University to repair a spinal fluid leak that stems from a pair of surgeries following the 2015 championship run, the 51-year-old Kerr returned to practice for the first time in more than three weeks Saturday.