Zaza Pachulia and Kawhi Leonard haven’t played a single minute in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, however, their energy was felt in the waning seconds of Golden State’s 110-97 win over the San Antonio Spurs. The result seemed trivial in the aftermath of Erin Popovich’s passing. Yet, the NBA postseason must continue rotating on its axis. Assistant Ettore Messina assumed the role of head coach in Gregg Popovich’s stead. While San Antonio spent every bullet in their chamber, Golden State’s deus ex machina offense was simply overwhelming.
Kevin Durant paced all scorers with 26, six assists and nine boards. Draymond Green led the defensive charge blocking four shots, in addition to his 10 points, six rebounds, seven assists and two steals. Klay Thompson did some light work, finishing with 19. Overall though, this was a throwback Strength in Numbers victory as six players scored in double figures. Even Shaun Livingston awoke from his slumber to deliver a vintage 16-points on 4-of-9 shooting performance and drained all eight of his attempts from the charity stripe, in 20 minutes off the bench.
The only hiccup occurred in the contest’s final minutes, when Patty Mills throwing his body around trying to ignite a spark in San Antonio, nearly wrecked Golden State.
The Warriors led by 15 with 4:36 left, Durant rolled his left ankle racing Mills to a loose ball. Barely 30 ticks later, Mills banged into Livingston, who rolled his left ankle. Of course, these teams have a history of ankle injuries to prominent players. Last May, Leonard rolled his ankle after landing on Pachulia’s foot and missed the remainder of the series.
Neither of Mills’ collisions were as controversial as Pachulia’s infamously curious “clumsy” leg placement, however, with the game no longer in doubt, he gave heart palpitations to a tense Warriors crowd that’s watched the defending champions collectively slip on a banana peel the last few months.
Golden State’s fragility is somewhat ironic considering their match-up in the Western Conference semifinals could pit them against the oft-injured Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. Sans Demarcus Cousins, New Orleans is peaking at the perfect time. Davis is continuing to play like an MVP runner-up, Jrue Holiday is executing defensive cavity searches and Rajon Rondo is handing out helpers at a prolific rate.
Down 3-0, San Antonio wouldn’t stand a chance of winning the series with Durant, Livingston and Curry sidelined who may be sidelined for part of the second round. H, the Pelicans could wreak havoc on a hobbled Warriors lineup.
Fortunately, Golden State (and the league office) can breathe a deep sigh of relief as Durant indicated his ankle is fine and that he’ll be in the lineup on Sunday for Game 4.
“It’s cool. I’m good. I shouldn’t have been playing around with the ball anyway, so I blame that on myself.” Durant said after the game, per ESPN.
Steve Kerr gave a similarly rosy prognosis for Livingston, who hopped right up after hitting the floor.
“Both sprained ankles,” Kerr said. “But I think they’ll be all right.”
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