HOUSTON -- Despite insisting that he would play, Spurs star forward Kawhi Leonard sat out San Antonio's Western Conference semifinals-clinching 114-75 win over the Houston Rockets because of a left ankle injury.
"Kawhi's out," coach Gregg Popovich said before the game Thursday. "He'd rather play."
Jonathon Simmons started in Leonard's place against the Rockets on Thursday night and scored 18 points.
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, now has more time to heal before the Western Conference finals. Before Thursday, the Rockets had been 17-5 at home when facing elimination over the past 25 postseasons, the best record in the NBA in that span.
The Spurs won the best-of-seven series 4-2 to clinch a trip to the conference finals against the Golden State Warriors.
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 are now 5-0 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.