Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs unfolded as you would expect knowing Kawhi Leonard wasn’t involved: The Spurs bent, and the Warriors rolled, winning 136-100.
But Gregg Popovich was still left surprised. While he couldn’t have assumed the Spurs would win, he most certainly didn’t sound like someone who counted on them to completely break.
From ESPN.com’s Michael C. Wright:
“The only way I can process this is it’s not about O’s and X’s, rebounds, turnovers or anything like that,” Popovich said. “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.”
It all comes back to making shots. No, the defense wasn’t good, but the Spurs need to make shots to get their defense set in the first place. Though they weren’t torched in transition beyond reason, they did shoot 37-of-100 from the floor, which allowed the Warriors to control the tempo off defensive rebounds.
The Spurs aren’t built to play that fast. They’re also not built to make as many shots without Leonard. Their offense has statistically cratered whenever he’s off the floor, according to NBA.com. They still have some good playmakers in his and Tony Parker’s absences, but they’ll need more dimes out of Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili and more scoring out of LaMarcus Aldridge if they expect to compete without their best player.
Even then, it might not matter. The Warriors are too damn good and won’t let up just because their opponent is clearly inferior. The Spurs need Leonard to compete.
They need him to forge any real semblance of belief.