March 23, 2023


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Kawhi Leonard escapes injury, helps Clippers beat Bulls

It took only 101 seconds for the Clippers’ first scare.

Gingerly running back after scoring his first points on a layup, Kawhi Leonard grimaced Friday night while reaching for his groin. His pace soon slowed to a walk — off the court, down a tunnel to the locker room inside Chicago’s empty United Center.

The second scare arrived two minutes later. Serge Ibaka’s bright yellow sneaker on his right foot flexed at an angle not conducive to playing basketball, and before the 7-footer stood up, he paused on his hands and knees, testing his right ankle. A second starter was now gone for a team already down another in Paul George.

Neither injury was serious enough to knock out either for more than a few minutes in a 125-106 victory over the Bulls that improved the Clippers to 19-8 ahead of a difficult six-game homestand featuring two matchups against Utah and another against Brooklyn.

Crises — and a potential upset on their road trip’s final night — averted.

Highlights from the Clippers’ 125-106 road win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night.

How healthy was Leonard? Enough, anyway, to score 16 of his 33 points during the third quarter, continuing his success during a season in which his 9.3 points in the quarter rank third most in the NBA.

On a night when the Clippers generated little offense from behind the three-point arc, Leonard — who was just one for six from long distance — was surgical in the midrange, making all five of his shots outside the paint but inside the arc.

When Leonard sat to begin the fourth quarter, the Clippers led by 12, a margin that was hardly the cushion it seemed against a quick-strike offense led by Coby White and Zach LaVine, who had each made at least eight three-pointers in their last game. Yet White didn’t even attempt a shot for nearly the first seven minutes of the final quarter, and LaVine — who scored 45 against the Clippers one month ago — was held in check by a variety of switches on pick-and-rolls that neutralized his ability to get into the paint quickly.

The Clippers’ Nicolas Batum leaps to block a shot by the Chicago Bulls’ Coby White.

(Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

LaVine finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but only two points came in the third quarter. He was unable to match Leonard’s outburst at a critical juncture.

As Chicago (10-15) struggled to mount a comeback, turning the ball over 13 times — which turned into 24 points for the Clippers — Lou Williams pushed his best shooting stretch of the season to five consecutive games by scoring 11 points in the first four minutes of the final quarter, including three shots right at the rim.

He scored 17 points, adding five assists, and the Clippers shot 58% while committing just nine turnovers.

Where Williams left off, Marcus Morris picked up, drilling five three-pointers in the final quarter to finish with 20 points and six rebounds. The Clippers made 13 of 30 three-pointers , just the seventh time in 15 games this season they have won when making fewer than 16 threes.

Yet the offense was potent enough to score at least 120 points for the 11th time this season. The Clippers are now 10-1 when scoring that many.