April 18, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Kawhi Leonard returns, leads Clippers to win over Trail Blazers

Their faces inches from one another, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard, his Portland counterpart, locked eyes with one another midway through Wednesday’s third quarter. For more than 30 minutes, their teams had waged a lopsided game lacking much suspense. Now, a flicker of tension finally seemed possible.

Four months earlier, during the teams’ last meeting amid the NBA restart, near Orlando, Fla., Beverley’s pointed laughter from the sideline after Lillard missed a critical free-throw began a chorus of howls from the Trail Blazers and their typically clutch star interpreted as bald-faced disrespect. Lillard reminded reporters after the game how his game-winning shots had ended Beverley’s postseason with Houston in 2014 and Paul George’s Oklahoma City tenure in 2019.

Within minutes of Lillard’s comments hitting social media, Beverley and George took swipes on Instagram. Lillard wrote back — then family members joined in.

When the Clippers crashed out of the playoffs weeks later, Lillard gleefully trolled the franchise on Twitter.

Those jabs from afar were why heads turned when Beverley and Lillard met up close at the top of the three-point arc. But whatever was said was brief, with any potential disagreement defused.

Lillard walked to the free-throw line, Beverley to talk with official Scott Foster.

There was no drama Wednesday in a 128-105 Clippers victory.

Only a cold, clinical dissection that improved them to 4-1.

“Nah, it literally wasn’t mentioned one time,” guard Lou Williams said of the teams’ past banter. “Everything in the bubble is in the past.”

The Clippers made 14 three-pointers in the first half, second-most this season in a first half, behind only the 16 Milwaukee made Tuesday en route to an NBA-record shooting night from deep.

Despite playing on the second consecutive night, with legs potentially heavy, the Clippers blitzed Portland during a 76-point first half that saw their advantage balloon to as many as 30 points.

Much of the advantage was fueled by the return of Kawhi Leonard for the first time since he suffered a lacerated face Friday during a victory against Denver.

Highlights from the Clippers’ win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

Wearing a customized mask to protect the eight stitches inside the left side of his face, Leonard assisted six times during the first half and the Clippers reached 30 assists in a game for the third time in their first five games. Leonard finished with a game-high 28 points on 17 shots.

“Tonight we were locked in,” said George, who scored 23 points and had 10 rebounds with seven assists.

The victory was the Clippers’ second by double digits following a 51-point blowout loss to Dallas on Sunday.

“We’re just playing really good basketball, we’re playing trusting basketball,” Williams said. “We know we have a lot of guys who are capable and we’re just playing with trust and playing freely.”

Lillard had no response for what the Clippers threw at him this time, scoring 20 points but only after making three of his 14 shots. Fourteen of his points came at the free-throw line, with the majority of possessions hounded by Beverley.

“Just tried to keep him off balance,” coach Tyronn Lue said.

Lue felt Leonard was winded in his return, but “really took over in the third quarter,” when Leonard scored 12 points. Leonard donned a mask with a large space for eyes and his nose. No one kidded the star over the look of the mask, Lue said.

“We’re just happy to see him on the floor,” Lue said.