Kawhi Leonard returned to the Clippers lineup one game after sitting out against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday due to rest and load management.
Leonard recorded 38 points, snatched 12 rebounds and led the Los Angeles Clippers in a triumphant 103-97 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, handing them their first loss of the season at Staples Center on Thursday night.
“He played great,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers on Leonard. “I love it when your better players are aggressive.”
“Seeing where he’s at now to where he started from, it’s absolutely amazing,” Rivers added on the development of his newly acquired star.
Leonard played seven seasons (2011-18) for San Antonio before being dealt to Toronto in July of 2018. It was clear the Riverside native wanted to put on a show against his former team, while he did that and more.
“It was something I look forward to,” Leonard said about playing the Spurs. “Just to be able to play against a great coach and my old teammates is always fun.”
His former coach, Spurs Greg Popovich stated, “I thought he was great.” But then frustratingly continued when asked to follow up additionally on his thoughts of Leonard. “Doc’s coaching him, I’m not. I just said he had a great game, there’s nothing else to say.”
Los Angeles (4-2) led 50-48 through 24 minutes of play, where neither team was able to gain a significant edge over each other. The Clippers were however able to win the turnover battle (18-12), which resulted in more possessions for L.A. over the course of the game.
Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell had 24 points and guard Lou Williams added 12 and five assists in 32 minutes of play. Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan led San Antonio (3-1) with 29 points, while second year point guard Derrick White added 20.
Los Angeles used a 9-1 run to take a 64-55 lead midway through the quarter, only for it to get cut to five, (80-75) to end the period. The Spurs got within four, 97-93 with two minutes left in the fourth, but could not pull closer due to L.A.’s defensive tenacity.
The Clippers shot just 42.9% from the field, but held the Spurs to 33.3% shooting from deep, relying on the defensive end to pick up a tough 103-97 win.
“We made it tough on them and didn’t let them get comfortable,” said Harrell.
“It was a gritty game by both teams where no one could make a shot,” Rivers said. “Tonight was not a great offensive night but we were able to win it on defense.”
The Clippers host Utah on Sunday at 6:00P.M, looking to avenge an early road loss against the competitive (4-1) Jazz.