Kawhi Leonard says knee 'didn't respond' as hoped; status in air

ByOhm Youngmisuk ESPN logo
Saturday, April 27, 2024

DALLAS -- Clippers star Kawhi Leonard said the inflammation in his surgically repaired right knee did not respond the way he had hoped after Game 2, and after gutting out 25 minutes in Friday's 101-90 loss to theMavericks, his status for Sunday's Game 4 is in question.

Leonard had nine points and nine rebounds but did not look like his normal self in Game 3 at American Airlines Center. With their franchise player limited, the Clippers unraveled and now trail 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

Leonard was asked if he will be able to play Sunday afternoon with less than 48 hours between Games 3 and 4.

"Yeah," Leonard said. "Right now, I'll see [how it feels] tomorrow. But I want to play."

Leonard missed 23 days with inflammation in his right knee and sat out the final eight games of the regular season and Game 1 of this first-round series against Dallas.

He logged 35 minutes in his return Tuesday, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds and four steals in a 96-93 loss in Los Angeles in Game 2.

Coach Ty Lue said Thursday that Leonard had come out of Game 2 feeling good. But Leonard acknowledged after Game 3 that his knee "just didn't respond the way we wanted" after his return.

"But we are going to get it right," Leonard said. "Time will tell. But we are doing all the right things."

Lawrence Frank, the Clippers' president of basketball operations, had described the inflammation as "unpredictable" and "stubborn."

Leonard tore his ACL in the second round in 2021. He came back and then tore his meniscus in the first round last postseason against Phoenix, missing the final three games of the five-game series.

Frank said Leonard's surgically repaired ACL and meniscus were sound structurally but that the inflammation has been problematic.

On Friday night, Leonard threw down two dunks in the second half, including one on an alley-oop. But there were times when he looked as if he lacked his usual burst running down the court. He played just 10 minutes in the first half and sat for the final 3:01 of the second quarter.

Lue said he did not think Leonard was feeling anything new with his injury but that the team is trying to manage it.

Leonard was asked if the inflammation has returned.

"It was pretty good," Leonard said. "First game didn't respond the way we wanted it to. And tonight it was either play limited minutes or not play. And I wanted to be on the floor to help the team, and that's what the results are.

"Frustrating that it happened to me this late in the season, but we're going to keep going. We're going to get it right."

With Leonard unable to play his usual minutes and Paul George mired in foul trouble, Lue had to adjust his rotations and play James Harden (21 points, 5 assists) for 44 minutes.

George said the team can see how hard Leonard is trying to fight his way back from his knee injury.

"We all want the best for him," said George, who was limited to seven points due to foul trouble. "He's battling not being able to be 100% to be here for us, but we got to cover, pick up the slack and appreciate what he's given us.

"He's still trying to suit up and give us whatever he can. I definitely feel for him knowing he's been working hard and again to get to this point where we want to make a [playoff] push and he can't be 100% right now."

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