When Kawhi Leonard checked back in with 6 minutes 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon at Crypto.com Arena, the game hung in the balance and the Clippers needed someone to take control.
Leonard put his stamp on the result, delivering at the right moment and leading the Clippers to a 102-93 victory over the Washington Wizards. The win was the fourth in five games for the Clippers (18-14). The Wizards (11-19) have lost nine consecutive games.
Leonard scored a season-high 31 points and had nine rebounds and three steals, providing the difference in the back-and-forth affair. The Clippers outscored the Wizards 30-18 in the fourth quarter to rally for the victory.
The game turned in the Clippers’ favor when Leonard scored eight consecutive points in the fourth. They opened a nine-point lead with two minutes left and did not have trouble protecting it rest of the way.
“It was just how the game played out,” Leonard said. “Was able to get to my spots, rose over the top, knocked down some shots. Yeah, when it’s that time of the game, you want to be as aggressive as possible. Either you’re going to make a shot or you’re going to make passes to your teammates and they’ll make shots. Just want to make a play.”
Leonard took a season-high 26 field-goal attempts, making 12. He played 31:52 and didn’t leave the game until there were 47 seconds left and the Clippers were ahead by the final score.
“Very impressed,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said about Leonard’s play in the fourth quarter. “Like I said, the pace with the way he played and then attacking downhill. Quick moves. Like, getting to the basket was really good to see. And like I said, he’s starting to trust it more. He’s feeling better, feeling good and starting to trust it. So, that’s good to see. When he’s explosive like that, he’s a tough cover.”
Leonard sat out the Clippers’ previous game, a 111-95 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night, for right knee injury management. Leonard, who sat out all of last season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during the 2021 playoffs, has played in 11 games for the Clippers this season.
He has been urging Lue to play him more.
So, with starters Paul George (left knee soreness), Reggie Jackson (left Achilles inflammation) and Ivica Zubac (left knee bruise) all out and with reserve Norman Powell (left groin strain) also not playing, Leonard got his wish.
“I mean, I already felt good. It was harder to play in 24-minute stints and you go to 26,” Leonard said. “But I made shots tonight. Season high in shot attempts as well. So, you get the ball, you should make more shots. PG was out. Reggie was out. Zu was out. So, [I was] more assertive and more aggressive throughout the whole game.”
Leonard essentially started at the two-guard position with so many of his teammates injured.
He started alongside John Wall, Nicolas Batum, Moussa Diabate and Marcus Morris Sr.
“I mean, I pretty much play point guard at times, playing small-ball five, four,” Leonard said. “This is the new NBA. You can see that so many guys are interchangeable with their position with the size and skills that they have. Just trying to adapt to the situation.”
Five Clippers scored in double figures, with Luke Kennard providing a big boost with a season-best 20 points. He was seven for 12 from the field and four for six on three-pointers. Kristaps Porzingis led the Wizards with 19 points, and Kyle Kuzma had 17. The Wizards, who were without Bradley Beal (right hamstring strain), have lost 12 of 13.
But it was Leonard’s play that put the Clippers over the top and made them feel good about things with three days off now before they host the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night.
“Yeah, I thought he picked up his pace up in that second, third and fourth quarter,” Lue said. “But basically, [mostly] in the second half just picking his pace up, getting to his spots, attacking downhill, and it was big for us.”’
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