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Warriors vs. Spurs, Western Conference Finals Game 3 preview: Golden State travels to house of horrors

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The Warriors travel to their historic house of horrors to face the San Antonio Spurs for a critical game 3.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors
LaMarcus Aldridge contests a Stephen Curry shot.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The big story

The Golden State Warriors don’t know whether or not MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard will play game 3 on Saturday. The do-it-all forward has had nearly a week off since his Game 1 injury, and his initial MRI revealed no structural damage. But local news reports that Leonard has not returned to practice, and should be a game-time decision.

The Warriors rightly expect to see Leonard in the starting lineup. In game 2, the San Antonio Spurs’ offense never got going as it scuffled through a lackadaisical effort. It would be easy to attribute their performance entirely to Leonard’s absence, but Manu Ginobili only played five minutes, LaMarcus Aldridge was a bit of a no-show, and the big men were lost defensively. Game 2 was a team loss if there ever was one, and the Spurs should expect a better effort at home, whether or not Kawhi Leonard laces up his Jordans.

For the Warriors, Andre Iguodala and Zaza Pachulia are also listed as “questionable” on the injury report. Iguodala was a full participant in Friday’s practice, while Pachulia was limited. Even if Leonard sits, getting Iguodala back into the fold would be a boon for a rotation that has been a bit crimped in late game scenarios. If Leonard is able to play, however, Andre Iguodala’s defense and IQ could be critical.

If they are without Pachulia, expect the Warriors to stay small for long stretches of game time. That means this series could pivot on the Draymond Green versus LaMarcus Aldridge match up. Green, who would serve as the team’s primary center at times, would have to keep the decidedly taller Spurs’ big men off the offensive glass and continue his dominance in post defense. This is no easy task, and (All-NBA superstar) Draymond Green has not been at his very best through two games this series.

Have you seen me?

My name is Klay Thompson, and I have not been seen since May 8th, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Please contact Mike Brown with any tips or information.

Some fans believe Thompson was a snub for the all-NBA team, but his performance this series hardly supports that theory. The guard is 6-of-21 for 17 points in nearly 70 minutes of court time this series, along with five turnovers and six fouls. The Warriors count on a blowup from Mount Klay of Easter Island at least every so often. It’d be great to see it at least one more time in San Antonio (remember this May 8th game?).

The call

Some fans are making the same mistake: they’re either taking Game 2’s result too seriously, or they’re taking the Spurs performance in the first half of Game 1 a bit too seriously. Neither is an accurate representation of where these two teams stand. The Spurs were up big with Kawhi Leonard back in March and the Warriors came back (without Kevin Durant). The Dubs have an obnoxious habit of completing absurd third quarter comebacks, and their level of play to begin the second half was decidedly higher than in the first half.

On the other hand, you can’t take away a team’s two best ball handlers (Leonard, Parker), stick them on the road against the Warriors and expect things to look smooth because Pop’s got ringz. Their remaining offensive talent is concentrated in their big man rotation, and those guys usually fall off a cliff when no one is able to get them the ball effectively in the offense (and even if they did just iso-post with the best of them, that won’t help them outscore competent three point shooters).

It is possible that Leonard returns, the Spurs win a big game 3 and we get a full blown series after all. However crazy it may sound, it’s also possible that Leonard never gets hurt, the Spurs win game 1 despite a Dubs comeback, and the Warriors roll in five anyway because they’re still the better team. Given the 90-game sample size we’ve had for these Warriors, I tend to believe that’s closer to the truth than the alternative.

Warriors by 7.

Updated 9:49am PST: Kawhi Leonard is ruled out for game 3, per NBA.com.