Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard hits game-winning shot in return

Taking the basketball on the appropriate wing as the ultimate 10 seconds of a tied sport ticked away, Clippers star Kawhi Leonard was remoted in opposition to the protection of Charlotte’s Jalen McDaniels earlier than making a stride’s price of separation by stepping to his left.

Leonard leaped, his shot from 18 ft fell by way of the online, and what the Clippers hope would be the subsequent chapter of their season formally started with a 119-117 victory in opposition to the downtrodden Hornets.

Trying little completely different within the clutch than he had the final time he was wholesome sufficient to play basketball constantly almost 18 months in the past, Leonard’s layup off a cross from George, who saved a missed shot from going out of bounds, with 39 seconds left, adopted by his go-ahead jumper with 1.4 seconds remaining, ended an up-and-down sport that has been a part of an up-and-down season for the Clippers, who’ve navigated quite a few accidents and the lineup disruption that has accompanied them.

“Anytime you see Kawhi go into his spot, that’s where he’s comfortable, and that’s where we’re comfortable,” stated Paul George, who like Leonard was additionally making his return from harm. “Swung the ball, I wanted to get it to him right there and he took us home on that shot.”

The win improved the Clippers to 14-11 on the primary night time of a four-game highway journey.

Earlier than tipoff, coach Tyronn Lue known as himself “very excited” that Monday’s return of the injured trio of Leonard, George and Luke Kennard may sign “the start of something new.” A sprained ankle had sidelined Leonard (16 factors and 6 rebounds) since Nov. 21. A sore hamstring tendon had sidelined George (19 factors and 7 assists) since Nov. 19. Kennard (9 factors) hadn’t performed since Nov. 15 due to a strained calf.

Largely, although, they hope this new portion of the season would be the first steps towards trying just like the Clippers of previous, from 2021, once they had been final working at full energy en route to creating the franchise’s first Western Convention finals look. Since Leonard’s postseason ended early when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his proper knee and missed the 2021-22 season, he returned for 2 video games to begin this season earlier than sitting for 3 weeks due to tightness within the knee, then sprained an ankle shortly after that.

“It felt good to be back, I love this game of basketball,” Leonard advised reporters in Charlotte. “I don’t think nobody loves playing any more than me. … I love this game and it gives me joy when I’m able to play and I mean, that ending was just great that I was able to make that shot.

“But you know me, we’re up nine, eight points pretty much the whole game, I would rather close it out than finish this game out like that.”

Clippers ahead Kawhi Leonard shoots over Hornets ahead Jalen McDaniels and makes what proved to be the game-winning shot with 1.4 seconds left Monday night time in Charlotte.

(Scott Kinser / Related Press)

George stated Leonard appeared again in “his happy place.”

Leonard’s shot to win the sport earned a flying chest bump from ahead Marcus Morris Sr., but it was a bench unit, led by Nicolas Batum that outscored Charlotte’s reserves by 26 factors, that helped preserve the Clippers within the sport. The Clippers outscored Charlotte by 23 in Batum’s 21 minutes and he completed with 13 factors. The unit helped pull the Clippers, who had led by 9 at halftime solely to path by 9 with 4 minutes left within the third quarter after a defensive effort Lue diplomatically stated “wasn’t very good,” again from the brink.

“I thought Kawhi made a big shot,” Lue stated, “but our bench was huge for us tonight.”

The Clippers took 36 three-pointers in opposition to Charlotte, an necessary marker for his or her coach, who needs greater than the 31.6 three-point makes an attempt per sport his group had taken coming into Monday, a charge that was good for less than twenty third within the NBA. The strain George and Leonard’s presence will placed on defenses “is going to cause teams to double team, teams to do some things they’re not used to doing and we’re going to get open shots,” Lue stated.

Simply as necessary is that their place within the rotation will assist cut back the damage and tear on teammates similar to Morris and Reggie Jackson, who had shouldered a bigger workload of their absence and had begun to put on down.

Lue known as the following 20 video games telling for the way intently the Clippers resemble the championship-caliber group they aspire to turn into. George downplayed the urgency to make up for misplaced time.

“In the big picture, we just wanna be playing well at the right time,” he stated. “As long as we’re learning on the fly, as long as we’re learning each game, how to get better, how to prepare, how to win, how to finish, how to dominate, that’s what matters.”