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No Kawhi comeback? Spurs still like chances against Warriors

From ESPN - April 16, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO -- A jovial Gregg Popovich turned serious in the Presidio room on the fifth floor of the Four Seasons Hotel on Sunday when the subject turned to Kawhi Leonard.

With the undermanned San Antonio Spurs focusing their attention on Monday's Game 2 matchup against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, Popovich was asked whether there was value to the injured Leonard at least spending time with the team, despite his inability to actually contribute on the court.

"He's rehabbing right now in New York trying to get healthy," Popovich said.

From there on, silence, news conference over.

Patty Mills called Leonard's absence "a tricky deal," but pointed out that the team wants "him to keep doing what he's doing to stay healthy. I do not know if he will be able to do that if he's in this environment. In saying that, the support is always going to be there from him no matter where he is around the country. We support him getting healthy."

A league source said the club does not expect Leonard back at any point during the playoffs, but the reality of Leonard's absence registered long before San Antonio's 113-92 loss on Saturday to the Warriors in Game 1. That's why the Spurs still entered the postseason confident in their chances of pulling off an upset after a roller-coaster season, provided they could consistently play the type of basketball they achieved while going 42-31 without Leonard in the lineup.

But San Antonio proved in Game 1 that such a feat is more than daunting against one of the league's most dangerous squads.

"There's a lot of factors in winning and losing," Popovich said. "So we have got to do a lot of things better. It's a game of mistakes. Even when you win, you go back to the film and you see things that you did not do well. How many points did we score last night? [Warriors coach] Steve [Kerr is] gonna look at the film and say, 'Hey, we have got to do this better and we have got to do that better.' We will probably look at the film a little longer.

"I thought their defense was outstanding. That was the story of the game. They made it really tough for us offensively. We just could not score, and it's a bad combination to play defense as lackadaisical as we did. I do not think we were very physical, not very aggressive. They pretty much scored at will, and we were not shooting well on the other end. So that's a bad combination."

The difference a healthy Leonard could make on the court is undeniable.

When Leonard matched up as a defender against Kevin Durant (17 times in Game 1 of the 2017 conference finals, second most among Spurs defenders) last season, the Warriors averaged 82.4 points per 100 possessions in such situations. Conversely, with Danny Green matched up with Durant 20 times in Game 1 last season, the Warriors averaged 180.0 points per 100 possessions.

According to Second Spectrum, Green was Durant's most common defender in Game 1, matching up with him 17 times in the half court. Durant scored three points and had three assists and one turnover against him. But overall, eight different Spurs defenders matched up with Durant in the half court. Even the 6-foot Mills found himself switched onto Durant.

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