HOUSTON — Despite insisting that he would play, San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard has been ruled out of Game 6 against the Houston Rockets because of a left ankle injury, coach Gregg Popovich said Thursday.
“Kawhi’s out,” Popovich said. “He’d rather play.”
Jonathon Simmons will start in Leonard’s place against the Rockets on Thursday night.
Popovich said earlier in the day that Leonard would be a game-time decision. Leonard was walking slowly but without a noticeable limp, as he arrived at the team’s shootaround in Houston on Thursday morning.
“It’s not an empirical formula,” Popovich said after practice. “You watch, you feel, you talk to the player and you come to a decision. Going to take as much time as possible, see what he feels like, see what I see and make a decision.”
By sitting out, Leonard, who is averaging 27.8 points on 52.4 percent shooting during the playoffs, would have more time to heal before a potential Game 7 or the Western Conference finals. The Rockets are 17-5 at home when facing elimination over the last 25 postseasons, the best record in the NBA in that span.
The Spurs lead the best-of-seven series 3-2.
Reserve point guard Patty Mills, who is filling in for injured starter Tony Parker, said earlier in the day that Leonard’s potential absence shouldn’t alter San Antonio’s focus headed into Thursday’s matchup at the Toyota Center.
“It shouldn’t change anyone else’s mindset,” Mills said. “Everyone did a great job of executing their roles last game. It should be the same. It has to be the same.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Spurs were 4-0 in games without Leonard and Parker this season.
Leonard sat out much of the fourth quarter of Game 5 on Tuesday and didn’t take the court for overtime after he came down on the foot of James Harden while turning to run up the court with 5:37 left in the third quarter.
He limped to the bench during the next stoppage in play, retied his shoe and re-entered the game, but he was largely ineffective on both ends of the floor.
Throughout Game 5, Leonard also appeared to be nursing a sore right knee, as he returned to the bench on multiple occasions to have athletic trainers tend to the injured area.