SAN FRANCISCO, United States — Despite forward Kawhi Leonard being uncertain with a sprained left ankle and two disheartening NBA playoff losses at Golden State, the San Antonio Spurs vowed Thursday to fight back aggressively.
“You’ve got to be the aggressor. You’ve got to be sharp for 48 minutes and you’ve got to take it to them,” Spurs centre Pau Gasol said. “You’ve got to be the most physical team, the team that wants it the most and play with that edge and that feeling the entire game.”
The Spurs are reeling after squandering a 25-point lead to lose the best-of-seven Western Conference final opener 113-111, top scorer Leonard going out in the process, and then being routed 136-100 by the Warriors in game two Tuesday.
Golden State won 67 games this season, the only team to do better than San Antonio’s 61, and the Warriors were the NBA’s top-scoring club. They are 10-0 in the playoffs this year and could match the best start in NBA playoff history with a victory in game three Saturday at San Antonio.
The Spurs were the NBA’s top defensive squad, powered by two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Leonard, who also averaged a career-high 25.5 points.
While the scene shifts from California to Texas, the Spurs realize that another loss likely spells doom for their title dreams.
“In a way it’s a game that you should be the most energized and ready to play, focused and with that edge, because you’re in a desperate position,” Gasol said.
“You’re a wounded animal and you should come out with everything you’ve got. It’s the easier game to prepare for if you’re down. It’s a difficult position to be in because if you lose then you know you’re pretty much out.”
Spurs playmaker LaMarcus Aldridge was prodded by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to score more, although he has faced two and three defenders at times with Leonard and star guard Tony Parker both out injured.
“They have never really doubled like that and triple-teamed at times. It was definitely something different that I’ve seen,” Aldridge said. “But I have to play through it. Take my shot or try to find an open guy.
“I think last game it definitely worked to their advantage with me getting passive. Our next game, I won’t do that. I’m going to play through it and I’m going to be all right.”
Aldridge made it clear there would be no collapse from the Spurs despite their latest drubbing.
“After a tough loss, guys want to play,” he said. “Every guy on the team is competitive and is ready to play now.”
‘Got to come out with that edge’
But they could use Leonard back on the court.
“He was sitting nicely on the sidelines,” Gasol said of Leonard’s practice contribution. “I think (his preparation) was as well as it can go. We have a good training staff that’s working with him and try to get that ankle right.”
Gasol called for attacking the Warriors from the start and not letting up.
“You’ve got to take it to them. You’ve got to come out with that edge,” he said. “Not just come out with it, but keep it for 48 minutes, especially against a team that if you let them loose and they get comfortable, they’re going to make four or five threes in a row and now you’re in deep trouble.
“You’ve got to be decisive, but at the same time, you have to read what the defense throws at you. They’ve done a good job of mixing it up. But at the same time, you have to read it, you have to make plays, and sometimes you’re going to make mistakes. But you want to be more aggressive than less in those positions.
“We’re down 2-0 and this game is critical for us. We all are very aware of that. So our life depends on it. I mean, our basketball life, not, you know.”