After missing the whole 2021–22 season, Kawhi Leonard returns to the LA Clippers roster. The Clippers defeated the Lakers 103-97, marking their eighth straight victory over their city rivals. Leonard had not played since suffering a knee injury during the Clippers’ run to the Western Conference semifinals in 2021. In his first game back, the 31-year-old showed no signs of rust.
He was only given 21 minutes of bench time in his first game back for the Clippers. This was the first time he has done so since 2013 when he was a member of the Spurs. He had since started 100 playoff games and 447 straight regular season games.
“I feel good. We did an amazing job, the Clippers staff, just putting together a team for me to get better and come out here quickly,” Leonard said in his on-court postgame interview. “They matched my motivation of getting back, so that’s all you can ask for, for our group.”
Kawhi is back like he never Left
Leonard returns to the game with 6:25 left in the second quarter. Despite missing 16 months due to injury, he immediately appeared to be at ease. After grabbing a rebound and going coast to coast for a difficult jumper, he scored less than 30 seconds later.
“I thought he looked good,” Clippers head coach Ty Lue said postgame. “I thought he got tired in stretches, but I thought he had good pop to start the game after sitting for so long.”
In 21 minutes, Leonard recorded a final stat line of 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and a steal.
Clippers Squad Depth: A Blessing
As Leonard Returns, the Clippers got to see John Wall play for the first time during the regular season. Beginning the game beside Leonard on the bench, Wall had a significant impact by accelerating the tempo and generating scoring opportunities for his teammates.
The Clippers’ acquisition of Wall relieves Leonard of a lot of the pressure, allowing him to attack without the ball. The Clippers’ depth is already looking scary with Wall in the rotation as six different players scored in double figures in the victory.
“It’s amazing, you see tonight, everybody’s out there contributing on the defensive and offensive end and as a leader, me and PG we gotta know who’s on our team and know we don’t gotta do it every night,” Leonard said of the team’s deep rotation.
“But we’ve got to show up in the big moments in the fourth quarter, just trying to star in our role. Everybody’s just trying to be great in their minutes and I think that’s going to help us moving forward.”
Leonard Returns: What’s next?
Leonard proposed to Lue that he may start off the bench until he’s at full flight coming season as he continues to gain momentum, and it’s anticipated that he’ll take a conservative approach in the early going. Kawhi said at the postgame press conference that he will probably miss one of the Clippers’ upcoming two games. That includes back-to-back contests against the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns.