How Kawhi Leonard's Injury in Game 1 Shifted the Western Conference Finals
If you believe that Kawhi Leonard was this year's NBA MVP, Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between his San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors is just about all the evidence you'll ever need to make your case.
At the 7:55 mark of the third quarter, Kawhi stepped on Zaza Pachulia's foot and rolled his left ankle, the same ankle that forced him to miss Game 6 of the Spurs' first-round series against the Houston Rockets. A couple seconds later, with 7:53 to go in the quarter, Leonard subbed out for good with the score at 78-55 in favor of the Spurs. According to our algorithms, the Spurs had an 87.40% chance of winning the game at that point in time.
Immediately following Leonard's departure, the Warriors went on an 18-0 run that reduced the San Antonio lead to 78-73 with 4:29 to go in the third, swinging the odds of winning the game to 58.85% in Golden State's favor.
With 4:09 remaining in the fourth, the Warriors took their first lead since early in the first quarter, when a Kevin Durant layup gave them a 101-100 advantage. They ultimately went on to win 113-111, outscoring the Spurs 58-33 over the game's final 20 Kawhi-less minutes.
Here's how our win probability graph looked:
SA peaked at 86%. Get well, Kawhi. pic.twitter.com/nHslufP6fT
— numberFire (@numberFire) May 14, 2017
In Leonard's 23.9 minutes played, San Antonio outscored Golden State 64-43. In the 24.1 minutes he didn't, the Warriors held a 70-47 advantage. Those numbers alone should give any MVP voter who supported Russell Westbrook, James Harden or LeBron James pause.
And that not-so-innocent little ankle roll didn't just turn this game upside down -- it might have swung the whole series.
Before the Western Conference Finals started, our algorithms liked the Warriors as 65.85% favorites to win the series. If the Spurs had held on to win Game 1, the odds would've given San Antonio a 53.95% chance of eliminating Golden State, essentially a coin toss. Instead, the Warriors now have a 76.64% chance of moving ahead to the NBA Finals...and that's assuming Kawhi Leonard comes back in Game 2 completely healthy.
Leonard was the 2016-17 league leader in nERD -- our proprietary metric that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on efficiency -- at 19.5. When he's taken out of our equations, the impact is huge: If this ankle injury takes him out for the remainder of the series, the Warriors become 86.24% favorites, a swing of nearly 10.00%.
That's a 40.19% overall differential in odds for the series from a Spurs' hypothetical win in Game 1 with a healthy Kawhi, as compared to the Warriors win that actually happened with the hypothetical situation of Leonard missing the remainder of the series thrown in.
Kawhi Leonard's impact on the Spurs and this series simply cannot be overstated. San Antonio will need him back as soon as possible if they hope to have any chance of hanging with Golden State.