The Warriors went on an 18-0 run immediately after Leonard left the game in the third quarter and then had just enough left in the tank at the end to finish off a come-from-behind, 113-111 victory over the Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
"When I looked in their eyes, I felt they believed," Warriors coach Mike Brown said after watching his club rally from 25 down in the first half. "With the team that we have, the veteran guys, their composure, and then the firepower, we know that we're always going to have a chance."
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday, also on the Warriors' home court.
Closer look at today's win 👀 pic.twitter.com/lLE0YkQ1ia— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) May 14, 2017
Whether the Spurs will have Leonard available is unknown. He suffered a recurrence of his left ankle injury after torching Golden State for 26 points in 24 minutes.
San Antonio outscored Golden State by 21 points while Leonard was on the floor.
"It was huge," Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili said of the absence of Leonard. "We were doing really well.
"When he went down, the Warriors were starting to pick up, to feel good about themselves, to increase the pressure on everybody, and that's when we struggled because we couldn't have the guy that we run those plays (through) and get them off their pressure."
The Spurs retained a 106-103 lead with under 2:00 to play before a key sequence set up the Warriors' game-winning finish.
Curry and Durant both missed 3-pointers, but where a rebound would have given the Spurs the lead and the ball with the clock winding down, the Warriors ran down both rebounds, setting up a Curry trey that tied the game with 1:48 left.
The Spurs never led again.
"I thought the rebounding really hurt us, as evidenced by (that sequence)," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "It was kind of indicative of what kind of mistakes we might have made.
"Great effort, tough loss, great opportunity, and we let it slip away."
Golden State outrebounded San Antonio 43-37.
The Spurs were still within one before Curry hit a 13-foot floater with nine seconds remaining to give Golden State a 113-110 lead.
LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs' leading scorer with 28 points, had a chance to tie the score but misfired on a 3-pointer from the left corner.
Patty Mills retrieved the miss and was fouled with five-tenths of a second left. He made the first free throw to get the Spurs within two, then intentionally missed the second, with the Warriors deflecting the ball out of bounds as time expired.
"It's the playoffs. You've got to expect everything," Curry said. "It was definitely a nice way to win Game 1."
Curry shot 7 of 16 on 3-point attempts. The Warriors were 11 of 30 from beyond the arc and outscored the Spurs 33-21 on 3-pointers.
Ginobili finished with 17 for the Spurs, connecting on seven of his 10 shots.
The game turned on Leonard's injury. He had poured in 18 points and Aldridge 17 in a stunning first-half offensive display by the Spurs, who held a 62-42 halftime advantage.
Leonard, who missed the end of Game 5 of the Western semifinals on Tuesday and all of Game 6 against the Houston Rockets on Thursday, tweaked the ankle when he stepped back into the Spurs' bench while attempting a 3-pointer early in the third quarter.
Then, after a brief stint on the bench, he returned and landed on Warriors center Zaza Pachulia's foot on a jumper, which sent Leonard limping to the bench for good.
"Just very painful because I tweaked it before," Leonard said of the injury. "It's hard to tell (about Tuesday). I definitely couldn't go (the rest of Sunday's game). But we'll see how I get better each day."
Leonard said he thought Pachulia's play -- he stepped under Leonard on a long jump shot -- was not intentional. Durant agreed.
"Zaza's not a dirty player," Durant said. "We're not that type of team. I wish it didn't happen. Hopefully he plays next game and his ankle gets better."
The Spurs were leading 78-55 when Leonard left the game with 7:52 remaining in the third period. The Warriors immediately responded with an 18-point run to get back into the game.
Golden State still trailed 96-90 before Durant nailed a 3-pointer with 6:09 to go to trigger an 11-4 run that produced a 101-100 Warriors lead, their first since the fifth minute of the game.
NOTES: The only other teams to rally from more than a 20-point halftime deficit in NBA playoff history were the Cleveland Cavaliers (25 points) earlier this season against the Indiana Pacers, and the Baltimore Bullets (21 points) against the Philadelphia Warriors in 1948. ... Golden State SF Andre Iguodala sat out the second half with a sore left knee. Coach Mike Brown said afterward the injury is not serious. ... The Warriors are the first team to reach the Western finals three consecutive seasons since the Spurs did it from 2012-14. ... The Spurs also had at least a 20-point lead in all three regular-season meetings against the Warriors. They won two of those three games. ... Warriors coach Steve Kerr attended the game but remained in the Golden State locker room during the action. He addressed the team both before the game and at halftime.