SAN ANTONIO • Before Game Three of the National Basketbal Association (NBA) Western Conference finals on Saturday, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked how he expected his team to play without star Kawhi Leonard after a disappointing performance in Game Two.
"I hired some soothsayers, I channelled Rasputin, and all sorts of things," he joked, "so I think we're ready to go."
The coach would have been better off finding someone who could conjure up prime versions of Tim Duncan, David Robinson and George Gervin to have at his disposal instead.
His team acquitted themselves well for most of three quarters on Saturday, but it may take that kind of star power to beat these Golden State Warriors with Leonard remaining out owing to a sprained left ankle.
Instead, the Warriors pulled away to claim a 120-108 victory and a commanding 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series.
The contest served up another reminder - with NBA commissioner Adam Silver in the stands watching - of just how underwhelming these NBA play-offs have been.
Every time you look up, you are playing against four All-Stars. We turned it over too much and we have got to make more shots.
GREGG POPOVICH, San Antonio Spurs coach, on how difficult it is to beat the Golden State Warriors with their All-Stars - Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
As expected, the Spurs played much better in this one than they did in Game Two, when they trailed by as many as 41 points and never led as the Warriors stomped them from the first minute to the last in embarrassing fashion.
But, even a vintage performance from ageing icon Manu Ginobili, who had 21 points in 18 minutes off the bench, was not enough to offset the loss of Leonard, perhaps the best two-way player in the league.
No one enjoyed Leonard's absence more than Kevin Durant, who cruised to 33 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes, making 11 of his 19 field-goal attempts and looking capable of getting any shot he wanted.
It was Durant who scored eight of the 12 points Golden State put together in a 12-0 run late in the second quarter, that broke a tie at 49 apiece and helped the Warriors go into half-time with a 64-55 lead.
They would not trail in the second half.
"I love where my game is at," Durant said. "I know what I can do in this league. I just try to put my head down and go."
Stephen Curry added 21 points for the Warriors, who are now a perfect 11-0 in the post-season to match the best start in NBA play-off history. They have won 26 of their past 27 games.
San Antonio kept hanging around, remaining within single digits into the early stages of the fourth quarter. But, while they managed to stay competitive, without Leonard they simply lacked the offensive firepower to keep up with the star-laden Warriors.
"They did a great job and competed really well," Popovich said of Golden State. "Every time you look up, you are playing against four All-Stars. We turned it over too much and we have got to make more shots."
The Spurs have been ravaged by injuries. Already missing Tony Parker (ruptured quadriceps tendon) and Leonard, they absorbed another blow in the first quarter of the game when David Lee injured his left knee on a lay-up.
Curry, though, expects to see a different Spurs team tonight. "Game Four is going to be even tougher," he said. "It is a chance to close it out and they are going to come out swinging."
WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE