Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard finished with six points, five rebounds and four assists in a 96-91 win over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night at Crypto.com Arena, November 17, 2022. (Courtesy Photo)

The Los Angeles Clippers awaited the return of their star swingman and were able to rally in the second half to pick up a much-needed victory. Kawhi Leonard played 25 minutes in his first game back after missing the last 12 previous games and helped the Clippers earn a 96-91 win over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night at Crypto.com Arena.

Leonard finished with just six points, making only 2-of-8 shots, but added five rebounds, four assists and was a team-best plus-26 on the night. He also mentioned that it felt good to be back on the court but admitted the recovery will still be a process.

Los Angeles improved to 9-7 on the season with the win while Detroit fell to 3-13 and dropped their fifth game in a row.

“Just rehabbing, getting ready,” Leonard said. “I’m not going to explain it because I’m not a doctor, and nobody in here is one. So just getting back, ready to get on the floor. … Like I said before, at the start of the season, it’s going to be a long journey. ACL recovery isn’t just one year. Everybody thinks that, but it’s a two-year process, so I know that and I’m going to keep going and going through the process.”

The two-time NBA champion and five-time All-Star started for the first time of the season after coming off the bench in his first two appearances for the Clippers.

“T-Lue wanted me to start the games and get us going in a flow. So, before I sat out [12 straight games] I knew I was gonna be starting,” said Leonard.

Reggie Jackson led the Clippers with 23 points while Paul George and Marcus Morris added 16 points apiece. Ivica Zubac tied his career high with 18 rebounds to go along with nine points.

Bojan Bogdanovic led the Pistons with a game-high 26 points and rookie guard Jaden Ivey added 18 points. Cade Cunningham missed his fourth game in a row due to a lower leg injury.

The Clippers trailed by as many as 12 in the first period but cut their halftime deficit to eight, 50-42.

Los Angeles outrebounded Detroit 51-43 but finished with 18 turnovers that resulted in extra possessions for the Pistons.

“I feel like we need to be better at everything,” said Leonard.

The Clippers changed the momentum of the game by outscoring the Pistons 26-17 in the third. Norman Powell added 14 points off the bench for the Clippers and made two free throws that extended their lead to 68-65 with 9.2 seconds remaining in the third period.

Leonard scored four of his six points in the fourth as the Clippers led by as many as eight after a Zubac alley-oop with 1:44 left in the game. George also got going late by scoring seven of his 16 points in the final period as well.

“I don’t know if a lot of people knew it, but how he took over the fourth and just a calm demeanor, the way he wanted the ball, the way that he got us in positions … So whenever you got big dog out there, it’s amazing,” said Jackson on Leonard.

The Clippers will next host the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.