What the Spurs Are Missing Without Kawhi Leonard
After being embarrassed in Game 2 by the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs have all but given up on this series without their MVP candidate. Kawhi Leonard was the only reason the Spurs had any chance in the series, and without him the Spurs look lifeless. During the Spurs 136-100 defeat on Tuesday night, they showed no desire to be on the court with the Warriors and gave up on head coach Gregg Popovich. The Spurs have shown us before that they can win without their superstar in Leonard, but now it seems like they’ve given up all hope in this series.
Most people who have watched the Spurs play know how important Kawhi Leonard is to them, but nothing could have made it more obvious than this ankle injury. Before this injury, the Spurs held a 20-point lead against the best team in the Western Conference in Game 1. Without him on the floor, they gave up that lead and almost lost by 40 points in Game 2. Of all reasons Kawhi Leonard is a top five player in the league, the number one reason is his ability to make the players around him better. The Spurs have run their offense through Leonard the entire season, whether it was driving to the lane and dishing it out to the open man or taking contact and getting to the foul line. Without him being the primary ball handler, the Spurs seem lost on the offensive end of the floor. No one has stepped up to take over as the leader on the floor and the Warriors have caught notice of that.
With statistics, it is easy to prove that Kawhi Leonard’s absence is impacting the Spurs play during this series. Through two and a half quarters of play in Game 1, Leonard was a +21 on the court and once he went off, the Spurs let up an 16-0 run by the Warriors and finished the game at a -25. San Antonio was up 78-55 when Leonard left the game, but could not recuperate after he left with injury. They only managed 33 points the rest of the way compared to the Warriors 58. The Warriors are clearly a different team offensively with Leonard on the court this postseason with an offensive rating of +11.1 with him on the court and a -10.4 with him off the court.
Kawhi Leonard’s skill set has proven to be missed greatly by the Spurs because that skill set gave the confidence to all the guys around him to play their best game. When he is hustling on both ends of the floor to make a play, other guys see that as inspiring and want to give it their all, but without that leadership, 136-100 final scores will happen. Following Game 2, coach Gregg Popovich spoke on the team’s effort without Leonard.
"The only way I can process this is it's not about O's and X's, rebounds, turnovers or anything like that. Kawhi being gone, I don't think as I watched. I don't think they believed. And you have to believe. I don't think as a group they really did, which means probably a little bit of feeling sorry for themselves psychologically, subconsciously, whatever psycho-babble word you want to use. I don't think they started the game with a belief, and it showed in the lack of edge, intensity, grunt, all that sort of thing. That was disappointing."
When the head coach of your team is calling out the players will to win, it is safe to assume that the team is in shambles. Hopefully these words from Popovich will be the spark the Spurs need to step up their game and make this series more competitive. San Antonio is only down 2-0 heading back home so all hope is not lost yet. Leonard still has a chance to make a return in this series, but the Spurs must find a way to win without him quickly. It is not often you see a 60 win regular season team get obliterated in the postseason, but this is now do or die time for the Spurs. Either learn to play without your star player or miss the NBA Finals for the third straight year.