An injury to San Antonio’s best player has totally changed the outlook of the Western Conference Final series between the Golden State Warriors and the Spurs. After they played Game 1 on Sunday, the Warriors became heavy favourites on Sports Interaction NBA odds.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard is proof you don’t need a lottery pick – the 2017 NBA Draft lottery incidentally takes place Tuesday before Game 2 of the West Finals – to find a superstar as he was the No. 15 overall choice in the 2011 draft out of San Diego State. By the time he’s done, Leonard might go down as the best non-lottery pick in NBA history as he’s now arguably its best all-around player.
Leonard was ninth in the NBA in scoring during the regular season at 25.5 points per game, his average having risen each year of his career. Leonard also has no defensive peer in the league, hence his nickname “the Claw.” He has won the past two Defensive Player of the Year Awards and might win a third on June 26 at the first-ever NBA Awards Show.
So, yeah, Leonard is somewhat important to the Spurs’ success. In Game 1 Sunday in Oakland, the Spurs were shocking the Warriors, who had been 8-0 in these playoffs and won seven of those games by double digits, 78-55. However, Leonard then landed on the foot of Warriors big man Zaza Pachulia in the third quarter, aggravating a sprained left ankle suffered in the previous series vs. Houston. That ankle caused Leonard to miss the clinching Game 6 against the Rockets.
Unfortunately, Leonard was unable to return Sunday and the Spurs imploded without him, being outscored 58-33 the rest of the way to lose 113-111. It’s still not known how much time Leonard will miss as he was to have an MRI on Monday. It sure didn’t look good, and it would be a shock for Leonard to play in Game 2. Game 3 is Saturday in San Antonio so Leonard would have five days off ahead of that one if he sits as expected Tuesday.
The Spurs are now +1000 on the series line. Remember, they lost starting point guard and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker in the Rockets series to a season-ending knee injury.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are an incredible team and are -357 favourites to win a second NBA title in three years. They also have been rather fortunate in these playoffs with injuries to key players on their opponents. Portland center Jusuf Nurkic played just one game in the first-round sweep because of a leg injury. Utah point guard George Hill missed the final three games in the last round vs. the Dubs. Then again, the Warriors are without head coach Steve Kerr due to side effects from back surgery and didn’t have Kevin Durant for two games vs. the Blazers.
Durant is the guy likely to benefit most from Leonard’s injury in this series. KD had 34 points in Game 1, hitting 11 of 21 from the field. Stephen Curry had 40 points on 14-for-26 from the field. Those 74 points were their most together this season. The Warriors shot 21-for-36 from the field (58 percent) after Leonard left the game. Before that, they had hit just 40 percent of their shots. Golden State outscored the Spurs 20-2 in fast-break points after Leonard’s injury as well. The Warriors’ comeback from down 20 at halftime was the third-biggest playoff rally in league history. No. 1 was Cleveland coming from 25 down at Indiana in the first round.
Teams that win Game 1 of a best-of-7 series have gone on to win the series 76 percent of the time. Clubs that won more than 65 games in the regular season, such as the Warriors, have a 43-3 series record after winning Game 1. Golden State is now -3333 to win this series. The favoured exact games total is five +150.
There is one injury concern for the Warriors as well: top reserve Andre Iguodala, a fine defender in his own right, was to have an MRI on his left knee Monday. Iguodala was limited to 10 minutes in Game 1 because his knee was bothering him. I believe Leonard’s status might determine whether the Warriors rest Iguodala as a precaution and save him for a likely matchup vs. the Cavs again in the NBA Finals.
Spurs vs. Warriors Predictions
I would have projected this series to go six games before Leonard’s injury. If he’s done for good, I expect a sweep (four games at +333). If Leonard can return for Game 3, the Spurs get one game at home but bow out in five.