OAKLAND, Calif. – Midway through the third quarter of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, with the San Antonio Spurs up by a comfortable 21 points, Kawhi Leonard took a step-back, high-rising corner fadeaway that — because he missed but was fouled — won't even register in the official stat sheet.
But the result of the play altered the game and, potentially, changed the rest of the series.
Upon landing, Leonard's left foot landed on Zaza Pachulia's right, twisting Leonard's ankle and sending him limping to the locker room for good. The Golden State Warriors immediately rattled off an 18-0 run and, over the next 20 minutes, outscored the Spurs by 25 points to rumble back for a wild 113-111 Game 1 win on Sunday.
On a similar shot in the corner moments before the Pachulia foul, Leonard twisted his ankle on teammate David Lee, who was on the Spurs bench. He asked out of the game, then returned again, only to twist it worse on Pachulia's foot.
From tip to the point of Leonard's injury, the Spurs had complete control. They held one of the best offenses in league history to 16 first-quarter points and led by as many as 25 in the first half.
But then came Leonard's departure and the Warriors' 18-0 run.
Over the game's final 20 minutes, Kevin Durant scored 20 of his 34 points, including a weaving fourth quarter layup that gave the Warriors their first lead since early in the game, and Stephen Curry scored 15 of his game-high 40, including a floater in the final minute that served as the game-sealing hoop.
"It's a tough break," the Spurs' Manu Ginobili said of Leonard's injury. "He's coming from an injury on that ankle and he tweaked it twice in the last minute he played. So we couldn't react to his absence."
Leonard had 26 points in his 23 minutes.