Kawhi has big 4th, ‘shocked’ NBA detailed injury


LOS ANGELES — After scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter for the second time this season, Kawhi Leonard said he will continue to follow his load management in order to maintain his health.

One night after he was held out of a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks due to load management of a knee issue, Leonard overcame a slow start and helped the LA Clippers erase an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit, totaling 27 points and 13 rebounds in a 107-101 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

After the win, Leonard found himself answering questions about load management and his knee. The NBA had fined the Clippers $50,000 before the game for statements made by the team and Doc Rivers that “were inconsistent” with Leonard’s health. In that statement, the NBA also detailed Leonard’s injury by explaining that the team was compliant in load management by “reasonably” determining that “Leonard is suffering from an ongoing injury to the patella tendon in his left knee and has been placed by the team at this time on an injury protocol for back-to-back games.”

“I mean it was shocking, but it doesn’t matter to me,” Leonard said when asked what he thought about the NBA revealing his knee injury as a patella tendon in his left knee. “I’m not a guy that reads the media anyway. We’re going to manage it the best way we can to keep me healthy and that’s the most important thing, me being healthy moving forward.”

After the NBA said the Clippers were compliant with league rules in holding Leonard out for Wednesday’s nationally televised game against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, Rivers said before that game that Leonard “feels great,” that there is no reason to be concerned and that the team must make sure Leonard stays feeling great.

This is the second time that the Clippers have been fined this year for comments involving Leonard. In May, Rivers told ESPN that Leonard “is the most like Jordan that we’ve seen” when likening the All-Star physically to Jordan. Leonard at the time was with the Toronto Raptors before becoming a free agent, and the NBA fined the Clippers $50,000 for tampering.

“For me, I’m on his side, you know what I mean?” Leonard said when asked about the NBA fining the Clippers twice over Rivers’ remarks about Leonard. “I’m a Clipper, he’s my coach. That’s just disappointing. It feels like they want players to play if they’re not ready.

“It is what it is. Like I said, I don’t read into it. I got to do what makes me healthy and is going to help the team be successful and that’s me being able to play basketball games for us.”

Twice this season, Leonard has sat out the first game of a back-to-back set, the previous coming in a Clippers loss at Utah in what was also a nationally-televised game on Oct. 30. The decision, though, clearly looked like it paid off on Thursday night.

Even though Leonard missed 10 of 13 shots and had only nine points after the first three quarters, he continued to shine in the fourth quarter. Leonard leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring early in the season, averaging 13.5 points per game in the quarter.

Not only did he score 15 points or more fourth-quarter points for the third straight game, he also outdueled Portland’s formidable backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in this nationally televised game. The Clippers held the duo scoreless and to a combined 0-for-8 shooting in the fourth.

Meanwhile, Leonard made 6 of 10 shots and all six of his free throw attempts while grabbing six of his rebounds in the quarter.

“Well, he looked well-rested,” Portland head coach Terry Stotts said of Leonard, who also scored 18 points in the fourth-quarter of a win over Utah on Nov. 3. “He was able to take it to another gear in the fourth quarter.”

Before training camp, Leonard, 28, said he felt much better than he did at the same time a year earlier and that his load management would be different than how Toronto handled it when he played in a total of 60 games during the regular season. Leonard then played in 24 postseason games, averaging 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds to lead Toronto to its first championship while earning Finals MVP honors as well.

Rivers echoed how good Leonard has felt before Wednesday’s game but wouldn’t go into any further detail on Thursday after the fine. The Clippers coach has had to straddle the line between Leonard’s desire for privacy regarding his health and the league’s stance on transparency about injuries and “load management.” Asked if there is a middle ground between those two competing mandates, the veteran coach said, “I’m scared to answer. That’s my answer. I just won’t answer.”

Leonard said he will continue to follow the lead of team doctors and his training staff when it comes to load management and sitting out a game during back-to-back sets.

“It just helps from just me pushing on something that’s not ready,” Leonard said of the long-term benefits of not playing in two front ends of back-to-back sets so far. “Like I said, we are going to keep managing it moving forward. I’m not a doctor and that’s for what the doctors and my training staff is for, letting me know and just telling how I feel and just got to keep moving it forward.”


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