The confirmation that San Antonio All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard would play in Game 1 Sunday of his team’s Western Conference finals against Golden State was welcome news to the Spurs.
But that had been anticipated even before Leonard — who had suffered a sprained left ankle in Game 5 Tuesday, sitting out the series clincher two days later — participated fully in practice at the team’s facility Saturday. Coach Gregg Popovich, meanwhile, sounded playful beyond that.
For instance, asked about his strategy even with defensive ace Leonard playing, Popovich laughed and told reporters: “Pray.”
As for any carryover advantage in the quick turnaround from beating high-octane Houston to facing higher-octane Golden State, the Spurs coach said: “It’s a totally different animal. Every team is different.
“I don’t think too much about carrying over this, that, or the other,” Popovich said. “Somebody actually asked me when we opened the Houston series what I would take from the ’95 series [against the Rockets], if you guys remember that.”
There was a little joking around, too, about former San Antonio assistant coach Mike Brown heading up the Warriors now, filling in for sidelined coach Steve Kerr.
“Mike who?” Popovich teased. But then he praised his friend and former staffer.
“He just has a presence about him,” Popovich said. “He has a confidence. … He has a great mind, he understands the game, he knows what it takes to win, he’s strong enough to make demands fairly and follow through, and he’s great with people. So what more could you ask?”
Nothing, perhaps, from the Golden State side. But from the Spurs’ side, a completely healthy roster for the series’ duration and a head start of 15 points per game against the West’s two-time defending champs might be nice.