Clippers' Kawhi Leonard nets 15 in first game since March 31

ByOhm Youngmisuk ESPN logo
Wednesday, April 24, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- Kawhi Leonard spent the previous 22 days trying to rehab the inflammation in his surgically-repaired right knee and get back on the floor.

Cleared to play for the first time since March 31, Leonard had 15 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals but was missing his usual rhythm as theClippersdropped Game 2 of their first-round playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks96-93at Arena on Tuesday night.

Leonard shot 7-of-17 but missed all five of his 3-point attempts, the most without a make in the two-time Finals MVP's playoff career.

But the most important thing for the Clippers was that Leonard reported his knee felt good after logging 35 minutes.

"Just keep trying to get a rhythm back and obviously try to win a basketball game," Leonard said his return. "We got pretty stagnant tonight in that fourth quarter. I want to just be able to get a rhythm with the team and get a win."

While the Clippers watched Luka Doncic and P.J. Washington drill two big 3-pointers each in the fourth quarter, they played with the kind of defensive intensity that coach Ty Lue seeks. Leonard was busy deflecting passes at times and had a steal for a breakaway dunk in the third quarter.

The Clippers couldn't make shots when they needed them. LA missed 22 of 30 3-point shots, with James Harden (22 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds) missing 8 of 10 of them.

Despite giving up home-court advantage and being tied 1-1 with the Mavericks in this best-of-7 series, the Clippers feel good about where they are with their best player back.

"Kawhi is one of the best in the world," Paul George said. "He's going to find his rhythm. We're going to find our rhythm around him. We feel good about it."

Leonard missed the final eight games of the regular season and Sunday's Game 1 win over Dallas with inflammation in his right knee, which has undergone surgeries to repair his ACL and meniscus.

Leonard participated in practices, including Monday's. But he said he wasn't able to do much outside of running and shooting.

He finally felt better during the past couple of days.

"Just being able to get on the floor and shoot consistent days, able to run the last few weeks," Leonard said of what helped him gauge his ability to return. "I haven't been on the floor, so the last couple days it felt great and was able to play tonight."

Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations, had described Leonard's inflammation as "unpredictable" and "stubborn" last week.

Oftentimes with Leonard, the star and the team have to see how his body responds and feels a day or two after playing. He said he doesn't know where his conditioning is but he's going to work on getting his rhythm back for Game 3 on Friday in Dallas.

"This is my first game in 20-something days," Leonard said. "We got to be better as a unit overall and it starts with me. And even if my wind is low, I got to find a way."

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