June 23, 2024

Kawhi Leonard digs deep in his bag, brings Clippers over .500 for first time in a month

At the top of September simply earlier than coaching camp, Kawhi Leonard’s Instagram account (that he doesn’t publicly acknowledge) posted a image of him on a road in London. The caption requested: “What should people expect from Leonard and the LA Clippers for this upcoming season?”

With Leonard holding a blue plastic bag, the response was an uplifting one: “I’m in my grocery/corner store bag, giving people what they want and need!”

With a possibility for the Clippers to finish a sport with a profitable report for the first time since James Harden’s Clippers debut in New York, Leonard produced a masterpiece, a pleasant efficiency from begin to end. Leonard led all scorers with a season-high 41 factors on 14-of-23 capturing, and the Clippers gained their first common season highway sport in Utah since February of 2017 by a rating of 117-103.

It’s the third straight win for the Clippers, tying their season-best streak, and the Clippers have now gained 8 of 11 video games since a beginning lineup change that made Harden the undisputed level guard. For Leonard, it was his first highway win at Utah since November 2016, a streak of six straight losses.

Leonard dug deep in his bag for this one. No play was extra memorable than when he handed the ball out of a double-team to Paul George, solely for George to fumble his deal with with the shot clock draining. Leonard, who had air-balled a 3 simply two minutes earlier, recovered the ball earlier than Collin Sexton might steal it and launched the ball to beat the shot clock.

That was Leonard’s sixth 3 of the sport, setting a season-high. Three minutes later, Leonard scored in the paint to provide himself his first 40-point sport in a win for the reason that 2021 postseason at Dallas.

“The running one hand 3, he made was huge,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue informed reporters in Utah Friday night time. “Just going through Kawhi the last six minutes to try to bring us home, and he did that for us.”

Friday was one other response sport for the Clippers. Last Saturday, the Clippers wanted to answer a highway loss in opposition to the Golden State Warriors to finish a comeback at dwelling in opposition to the Warriors after trailing by 22 factors. On Wednesday, the Clippers wanted to answer a Nuggets staff that had crushed them 11 of 12 instances and twice this season, they usually accomplished a comeback at dwelling in opposition to the Nuggets after trailing by 15 factors.

Six weeks ago, earlier than the Harden commerce, the Clippers visited a Utah staff they noticed twice in the preseason and misplaced their first sport of the season. Many recall the obscene diploma of problem of a few of Utah’s photographs in October, however the Clippers misplaced a sport in which they made 53.2 p.c versus Utah’s 43.8 p.c in massive half because of the possession battle (17-6 offensive rebound benefit for Utah, 16-14 opponent turnover benefit for Utah) and Leonard’s shaky course of with the sport on the road.

Leonard made certain to make amends for that efficiency early, usually and late. Utah was lacking reigning NBA Most Improved Player Lauri Markkanen, who produced a 35-point, 12-rebound efficiency in opposition to the Clippers in October. In the first quarter Friday night time, Leonard outscored your entire Utah beginning lineup 14-13, tagging and-1s on beginning forwards Simone Fontecchio and John Collins.

“Our last two games, we’ve been fighting from behind in those first quarters,” Leonard informed reporters in Utah Friday. “You got to jump on teams early and in their home building. And they play very well at home. So that was a little breathing room throughout the whole game.”

In the second quarter, Leonard dug into his bag once more. After getting the ball from Harden, Leonard bought downhill utilizing a display from heart Ivica Zubac. Leonard’s man, Collins, was behind the play recovering whereas Zubac rolled to the basket. Zubac’s defender, Utah backup heart Kelly Olynyk, anticipated a pocket go from Leonard and reached into that potential passing lane. But Leonard froze Olynyk with an in-out hesitation dribble whereas Collins was nonetheless trailing the play, and punished Utah’s absent assist protection and rim safety with a slam dunk.


Leonard was so scorching by the top of the first half, making all 4 3-point makes an attempt, that the Jazz determined to fireside on him to get the ball out of his fingers on the Clippers’ final possession of the second quarter. It was a sound resolution, with Jordan Clarkson abandoning 17.1 p.c 3-point shooter Terance Mann. Leonard downloaded the protection, bought the ball out to Mann with loads of area, and Mann hit his second 3-pointer of the quarter for one among Leonard’s 5 assists — a enormous shot that marked Mann’s first sport of the season with a couple of 3.

And in the third quarter, Leonard did all of it. He scored 10 extra factors after a 22-point first half, that includes one other and-1 by way of Fontecchio and one other contested 3 in entrance of Collins. Leonard grabbed 4 of his 5 rebounds in the third quarter, together with two on the offensive finish. He had two of his assists in the third quarter. Leonard blocked a Sexton layup. And Leonard even put his physique on the road, rotating off of Collins to cease the 7-foot, 245-pound Walker Kessler after a facet pick-and-roll, saving a certain two factors in the method. That was Leonard’s third drawn cost of the season after drawing just one cost all of final season.

Overall, Leonard led a full staff win Friday night time in Utah. George was out of rhythm in the first half as a consequence of first-quarter foul bother and had as many factors (2) as fouls at halftime. But George bounced again to attain 18 of his 20 factors in the second half.

It was a quiet scoring night time for Harden, who made solely 2-of-8 discipline targets, each 3-pointers. But Harden shared the game-high plus-minus with Leonard, because the Clippers outscored the Jazz by 18 factors in Harden’s minutes. Overall, Harden had 12 factors, 7 rebounds, and eight assists with solely 2 turnovers. For all the questions of well being surrounding Harden, George, and Leonard, Friday marked the sixteenth sport that the trio has performed collectively in solely 33 days. That matches the variety of video games Harden performed with Brooklyn Nets co-stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, together with playoffs, throughout Harden’s whole 390-day tenure in Brooklyn.

“I think training camp was big for us, but it was also big that PG and Kawhi were healthy, and so they were able to do a full training camp, no limitations,” stated Lue, who solely bought to have Leonard and George collectively for 38 video games final season. “Having a good training camp where we actually went hard, we had to do a lot of conditioning, to get ready for these type of situations to playing extended minutes when we need to. Give those guys credit. They’re coming in healthy. But also, doing all the work it takes to get in shape. And you can see the results of it right now.”

And with out backup heart Daniel Theis accessible as a consequence of a game-day sickness late scratch, Zubac performed a career-high 42:16. Zubac has struggled in opposition to like-size facilities, however Zuabc outplayed Kessler Friday to attain 18 factors on 9-of-15 capturing from the sphere, including 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and a couple of blocks.

“Just better consistently, as games go on,” Leonard stated of Zubac all through the season. “He’s doing what we’re asking him to do, like tonight, playing 40 minutes. You know, that’s big minutes for a big fella like that. And yeah, he just keeps getting better.”

The Clippers went with an 8-man rotation, and each starter performed at the least half-hour. While Norman Powell was the one reserve to play greater than 17 minutes, backup rookie large Kobe Brown and backup level guard Russell Westbrook rounded out the rotation.

The Clippers get two days of relaxation earlier than beginning the first of two season-long four-game homestands on Monday in opposition to the Portland Trail Blazers. Leonard’s signature efficiency of the season, in his twenty first sport, permits the Clippers to begin the team’s second quarter of the season understanding what they should do to win.

“When he’s got it going like that, it makes it makes the job so much easier for us,” Zubac stated of Leonard.

(Photo: Alex Goodlett / Getty Images)