Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard produced a monster performance in his return to playoff action.
Leonard scored 38 points on 13-of-24 shooting in addition to 5 rebounds and 5 assists to help the Clippers steal Game 1 from the Phoenix Suns in their Western Conference first-round series.
Leonard — who was notably battling Kevin Durant in a fascinating matchup — outperformed KD in what was his first postseason appearance since the 2021 Western Conference semifinals where he injured his ACL.
The former Toronto Raptors man only returned from that injury this season with plenty of load management throughout the 2022-23 campaign in preparation for the playoffs.
And while Leonard did show signs of gassing out in the first quarter, head coach Ty Lue had a plan in place which ultimately resulted in a 38-point performance from his star player.
“I thought he got a little winded when he first came out in the fourth quarter,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said after the game of Leonard. “Around the 10-minute mark on the free-throw line, he was a little tired. So we got him out for three minutes and brought him back, and he said he was ready to go.
“That’s what we’ve been saving up for, this moment here in the playoffs. We have to play heavy minutes, especially with PG [Paul George] being out, being short-handed. He was great tonight.”
Along with Russell Westbrook, Leonard will be looking for a repeat of his performance in Game 2 which takes place Tuesday.
Should the Clippers upset the odds and emerge victorious in the series, they will fancy their chances of a first-ever championship greatly with George set to return in the next round.
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