Fighting through an ankle injury, San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard sat out much of the fourth quarter and didn’t take the court for overtime of his team’s 110-107 win over the Houston Rockets, but he insisted he’ll play Thursday in Game 6.
“Yeah, I’m going to be able to play,” Leonard said. “It was frustrating because I wanted to play. But I was happy seeing my teammates out there putting in a good effort and getting the win.”
Leonard suffered the left ankle injury at the 5:37 mark of the third quarter, when he came down on the foot of James Harden as the forward was turning to run up the court. Leonard immediately limped back to the bench during the next stoppage in play, retied his shoe and re-entered the game, but he was largely ineffective on both ends of the floor.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t sure how Leonard’s injury might affect the team going into Thursday’s Game 6 in Houston, but he said the 25-year-old forward asked to stay in the game before the staff made the decision to pull him.
“He’s had issues, and you could tell just before he took a couple of shots he jumped off one foot,” Popovich said. “He didn’t want to come out, obviously. We let him play a little while just to see what he was going to be like, but it was obvious that he couldn’t go. So I think everybody else picked it up very well.”
Manu Ginobili replaced Leonard in the lineup with 4:57 to play, but Leonard re-entered the game with 2:59 remaining. Leonard left for good with 34.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
“It was tough when we saw Kawhi kind of limping,” Ginobili said. “We knew it was going to be a tough one. But they had it tough, too, and they’re missing Nene, too. We really hustled down the stretch and made some good plays.”
Ginobili finished with 12 points and had a game-sealing block of a Harden 3-point attempt at the end of overtime.
Now Leonard will prepare for Game 6 after leaving Tuesday’s game with 22 points and 15 rebounds, his most boards in a playoff game since Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, when he had 16.
“It’s going to be tough. They’re a great offensive team,” Leonard said. “They’re a bunch of competitive guys. They play great at home. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be about taking care of the ball, playing confident and trying to minimize our mistakes.”
The Spurs lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, and Ginobili said he doesn’t even want to ponder a Game 6 without Leonard in the fold. After the game, the training staff put a couple ankle braces in Leonard’s locker, and when he returned from the training room for a session with the media, the forward didn’t walk with a noticeable limp.
“I don’t even want to think about it because Kawhi became our go-to guy, our 3 guy, 3 defender, rebounder,” Ginobili said. “He does a ton of things for us. If he can’t be out there, it’s going to be very hard to react to it. For sure, it’s going to be a tough battle over there.”