Kawhi Leonard did not play in any NBA regular-season games for 493 days. He had surgery and then returned to playing.
Leonard came off the bench during the Clippers’ 103-97 victory over the Lakers at Crypto.com Arena on Thursday night. This is the first time the two-time most valuable player of the NBA Finals had not started since Nov. 10, 2013.
Leonard had a good game, scoring 14 points on 12 shots, getting seven rebounds and two assists. This helped the Clippers win their eighth game in a row against the Lakers.
I just want to win, like I told coach Tyronn Lue. Whatever way he thinks we should play without me affecting the game and causing people to get out of rhythm, I’m for it.
The decision to only have Leonard play in the fourth quarter was so that he would stay healthy and be available for the playoffs. This was decided after talking with the team and taking multiple things into consideration, with the main goal being Leonard’s safety.
Leonard is not playing for a set amount of time. The team is watching him closely to see how long and how hard he plays, and how much time he rests between playing. They think he is too tired to play the whole game if he starts it.
I would have been sitting for 35 minutes, so that’s too long. This was the best situation.
After sitting out the first quarter, Leonard played the final six minutes and 25 seconds of the half. He was loudly applauded by the crowd, even though he was playing for the visiting team. Leonard quickly made two shots, the first a midrange pull-up jumper, and the second a turnaround jumper after backing down Juan Toscano-Anderson.
Lue said that he thought James looked good and that he got tired after sitting for a long time, but he had good energy at the beginning of the game.
The Clippers’ first backup, John Wall, had a long break – 545 days – before Thursday’s return to the NBA. The 32-year-old, five-time All-Star point guard made his first two shots from the midrange before going to the rim for a layup that showed the quickness the Clippers believed was a missing element. Wall finished with 15 points and three assists, making seven of his 15 shots.
In his first game back after a long break, Leonard missed some shots but helped his team win.
“Sometimes he will play like Kawhi Leonard, and sometimes he will just be trying to get a feel for the game and not playing well,” Lue said.
He needs to realize that even though he is amazing, success will not come immediately. We have to be willing to wait for him, and he has to be willing to wait for himself.
Leonard played the beginning of the second half, and then again later on in the fourth quarter when the team was losing by 2 points. He missed his first shot attempt, but got the rebound and then Jackson scored a 3-pointer.
Lue said that the plans can always be changed if LeBron does not feel comfortable and that they will see how it goes.
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Andrew Greif is the person who writes about the LA Clippers for the Los Angeles Times. He started writing for The Times after writing about college football and sports events for the Oregonian. He went to the University of Oregon and grew up in Oregon.
Lauren Flores is a reporter for ABC News. She has covered major news stories for the network, including the 2016 presidential election, the 2017 Women’s March, and the 2018 midterm elections.