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San Antonio is missing its star down the stretch of the game.
Kawhi Leonard left an extremely competitive Game 5 against the Rockets with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter due to a left ankle injury suffered earlier in the game. Leonard did sub back into the game about a minute later, but then sat on the bench for the San Antonio Spurs’ final play and did not return to the game in overtime.
Here’s video of the injury, which caused Leonard to limp off the floor during a timeout. However, he stayed in the game coming out of the break.
Ankle tweak for Kawhi, but didn’t look too bad pic.twitter.com/1TjWnuJh0s
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 10, 2017
He struggled to leave the court after the Spurs pulled out the victory.
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard used Manu Ginobili’s shoulder as a support as he limped off the floor to the locker room.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) May 10, 2017
Leonard is so important to everything the Spurs do on both sides of the basketball, and obviously, you know the ankle is clearly bothering him if he’s not playing. The Spurs were able to pull out the victory to take a 3-2 series lead, but the rest of their playoff run is in jeopardy if Leonard misses extended time.
For San Antonio, clearly making sure Leonard is 100 percent for the rest of this playoff run.
Harden dropped 33 points in regulation, but his inability to score in overtime cost Houston the win.
James Harden, the point guard of the quickest offense in the league, held the ball watching the clock run down once. Then he did it again. By the time the overtime buzzer sounded, it was the San Antonio Spurs winning, 110-107 — and the Houston Rockets scoring just six points in the extra period.
In those five minutes, Harden went 0-of-3 shooting, with a single assist and three turnovers. And he wasn’t guarded by Kawhi Leonard once, with the Spurs star sitting out with an ankle injury.
We’ve seen too many blowouts so far this postseason (and this series), making this game manna from heaven. In the regular season, four games between these teams were decided by a combined 12 points, and so this nail-biting buzzer-to-buzzer thriller was exactly what we expected the whole time.
Still, the overtime period sapped much of the life out of what was otherwise a fabulous showing of basketball. The Rockets, who played seven players, must have been exhausted, Harden in particular. That’s a reason, but not an excuse, for why he dragged the offense down with him in the final period when just a few buckets would have ended the Leonard-less Spurs, sending Houston home for an elimination game.
Shocking harden got bit twice pic.twitter.com/0JRb6X0ahd
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) May 10, 2017
It wasn’t always Harden’s fault; in one instance, he kept waiting for a screen that never came, forcing him into a contested three late in the shot clock. On one turnover, it’s possible he was fouled a little bit without a call. But Houston’s two made shots in the overtime period came on three-pointers from Patrick Beverley and Ryan Anderson, generated directly by quick offensive ball movement.
On most of the possessions in the final frame, those two excluded, there basically was none.
When Harden’s potentially tying three was blocked by Manu Ginobili in the final seconds, it was appropriate. Ginobili played his best game all playoffs — 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists — and he swatted away an attempt that was representative of all the other ones Harden had taken that frame. Lefty on lefty crime. A chance for Harden to redeem himself, and the ball didn’t even get a chance to be judged by the rim.
Harden was magnificent for most of the rest of the game. He scored 33 points on 11-of-24 shooting, which puts him at 50 percent when you remove the overtime misses. He recorded 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and his nine total turnovers would have been a lot easier to look at before his three extra ones in OT.
But Harden’s late-game struggles stand out because this is hardly the first time — throughout this entire season, he has struggled in crunch time. In the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the game within five points, he only shoots 36 percent. Too often, it seems like exactly this happens: the free-flowing Rockets get stuck with isolation ball, featuring Harden holding the ball for 20 seconds at the top of the key.
Eventually, that was going to bite them in the postseason. In Game 5, when the stakes were higher than they’ve been all season, it did.
One non-overtime play is worth noting here, too, and it’s Harden’s offensive charge committed on the game’s penultimate play. This is actually when the Harden malaise began, as he did exactly that — ran the clock down, tried to create something with less than 10 seconds on the shot clock, and made a mistake. In this case, it was a ballsy charge taken by Jonathon Simmons, and it was the right call.
Harden is a fantastic isolation scorer, to be sure, but playing one-on-one will always be easier to defend than five-on-five. Late in the game, with the Rockets rocking a seven-man rotation after Nene’s injury in Game 4, Harden had clearly worn down. It might force Mike D’Antoni’s hand into trying a Sam Dekker or Montrezl Harrell in Game 6, and with Leonard’s status unknown, the Rockets certainly aren’t conceding this series. Still, anything would have been better than what Harden ended up doing.
This isn’t a “Harden in the playoffs” problem — his stats generally line up with his regular season offerings. He infamously had a terrible 2012 NBA Finals, but it came on the heels of a fantastic series in the conference finals against San Antonio during his final season in Oklahoma City. With the Rockets, he has just about been the same ol’ Harden in April and May. But in a close game late, for whatever reason, Harden has struggled. Saying he’s “not clutch, bro” is a weak copout, so don’t take that to the comment sections. A more nuanced criticism of him for his decisions to hold the ball without doing anything with it for long stretches of the shot clock is much more valid.
Harden is a cerebral basketball player who thrilled us all year, and he is reasons 1, 2, and 3 for the Rockets being this good of a team. Houston can still win this series, and Harden could easily make up for how this one ended. With a player that good, you might even expect him to understand what went wrong and do just that.
But the Rockets had Game 5 sitting there for their taking, and they lost it. You can really only blame Harden for that.
The San Antonio legend did it again in Game 5 against the Rockets.
It’s no secret that Manu Ginóbili is in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career. At 39 years old, Ginóbili was the second-oldest player in the NBA this season, behind only Vince Carter. His 7.5 points per game were a career low. He didn’t score at all in the first four games of the playoffs in the San Antonio Spurs’ opening round series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Just when it looked like Ginóbili was finally washed up, he turned in a vintage performance to key the Spurs’ improbable 110-107 win over the Houston Rockets in Game 5 on Tuesday night. Ginóbili made the biggest play of the night to help San Antonio grab a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Spurs looked like they were in serious trouble when Kawhi Leonard exited the game with an ankle injury at the end of regulation. Instead, Danny Green hit the two biggest shots of the night and Ginóbili made a signature defensive play to seal the win.
The Rockets had the ball, down three on the final possession, when James Harden wiggled his way out of a trap to get a clean look at a three-pointer. Harden had no one in front of him to contest the shot, but he didn’t see Ginóbili behind him. Ginóbili blocked the shot and was mobbed by teammates after the game:
Ginóbili didn’t just make one big play at the end of the game. He helped pace the Spurs’ offense throughout the night, finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.
The Spurs had to know Ginóbili was poised for a big game when he tore through the Rockets’ defense for a huge dunk in the second quarter. This is only Ginóbili’s third dunk of the season, but it came at an ideal time.
Like ESPN’s Zach Lowe said:
Manu’s always there when you need him
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 10, 2017
Ginóbili has been delivering clutch postseason performances for San Antonio for 14 years. He gave the Spurs one more when they needed it most.