Kawhi off bench: Wait nothing after 82 games

Kawhi off bench: Wait nothing after 82 games

9: 22 PM ET

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    Ohm YoungmisukESPN Staff Writer


      Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. He covered the Nets and Knicks for almost a decade before joining ESPNNewYork.com. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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LOS ANGELES — After missing all of last season, Kawhi Leonard opted to wait a little longer before making his much-anticipated return for the LA Clippers.

Leonard decided to not start the game for the first time in his brief time with the team. He ended up finishing the game as the Clippers beat the Los Angeles Lakers once again. Leonard scored 14 points, including a 21-foot jumper with 52.3 seconds remaining to help seal a 103-97 win at Crypto.com Arena.

The Clippers beat their hallway rival for the eighth straight time despite their franchise player not checking into the game until the 6: 25 mark in the second quarter and playing three stints that totaled 21 minutes. Leonard said that it was a long wait for him to get into the game. “But I waited 82 games last year, so I didn’t think 15 minutes would be that long. “

In his first game back since tearing his right ACL in Game 4 of the second round against the Utah Jazz on June 14, 2021, Leonard was a reserve for the first time since November 2013, when he was with the San Antonio Spurs.

Leonard stated that he decided not to start after reviewing data and running simulations with him starting and subscribing in. Leonard and the Clippers want him to be healthy and at his best for the postseason, when the team expects to contend for a title. They want him to play the most important stretches, maximize his minutes and finish the game.

“One scenario with me starting, I would have been sitting like 35 minutes real time,” Leonard said of starting and still being able to finish the game. “That’s too long. This was my ideal situation. We’ll see how things develop. “

Leonard did not waste any time after he got back on the ground. He made his first two shots from midrange, which is where he likes to play.

“First [Leonard] got the rebound, went coast-to-coast and hit his little patented fadeaway,” said John Wall, who hit 7 of 15 shots and scored 15 points in 24 minutes in his first game since April 23, 2021. He is all about rhythm and pace.

“He is a man who works hard and does what he likes. He treats it as a workout. He doesn’t see anyone in front of him. It’s all about him missing a shot or making a good one. “

Leonard struggled to find his rhythm at 3-point range, where only 1-for-4 was possible. But he made some pivotal plays, drawing a charge off LeBron James late in the fourth and knocking in that jumper with under a minute to go to give the Clippers a six-point cushion after the Lakers erased a 15-point, second-half deficit.

” Leonard admitted that he had done this before when he came off the bench. “This is how my career started. This is how I approached it mentally. It’s okay to act like I’m in foul trouble. Once I’ve checked in the second quarter, it is time to play basketball. “

Leonard admitted that he won’t be playing in at least one of the back-to-back games against Sacramento and Phoenix this weekend.

” You have to play minutes in order for the ACL to become strong,” Leonard stated. “Once you start playing 38 minutes first game, it could easily weaken up, but I’m listening to the doctor with that. It’s a long season. We want to make it to the playoffs. “

As for how long he plans on coming off the bench, Leonard said he likely needs to see his minutes increase back to around the 34.1 minutes he averaged in 2020-21. Leonard stated that it all depends on how my knee reacts. “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow and then gradually go as time goes forward and I’ll start adding minutes and once I’m ready to play 35 minutes — I think I played 33 minutes when I was healthy — that’s probably when you’ll see me starting. “

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