NBA

George & Harden relieved to welcome Leonard back as Clippers top Heat

By Sports Desk January 02, 2024

Paul George and James Harden were relieved to see Kawhi Leonard return from a four-game absence and help the Los Angeles Clippers stay hot with a win over the Miami Heat.

Leonard scored 24 points to pass 13,000 for his NBA career as the Clippers won 121-104 against the short-handed Heat on Monday.

George added 23 points, Norman Powell had 22 on 9-of-11 shooting while James Harden scored 15 points and provided 10 assists to aid in the Clippers' third straight victory and 12th in 14 games. 

"You see the performance," Harden said about the return of Leonard, who had been sidelined by a hip contusion.

"Both ends of the ball, just elite. Shotmaking, defensively just being active, creating opportunities in transition. We needed that, for him to get well and get better. We missed him."

George feels Leonard adds so much more than his statistical production.

"He does all the little intangible stuff – it's just so reliable," said George.

"It's great to have 2 back in the lineup. He missed a little over a week and it was going to take a little time for him to catch his rhythm, but I thought he did and looked like himself."

Miami, playing without six-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and a few other key contributors due to injuries, held a 35-23 lead after one quarter and was up by as much as 14 points in the second before the Clippers began battling back.

Los Angeles outscored the Heat by a 32-17 margin over the final 9 1/2 minutes of the first half to take a 59-58 edge at the break. Leonard had 13 second-quarter points to spark the comeback and George then scored 12 points in the third as the Clippers extended their lead to 95-85 entering the fourth.

The Clippers have continued to find a way to win since their six-game losing streak in November.

"It is better when you try to figure it out winning than trying to figure out losing and that is what was happening earlier [in the season]," added Harden.

"Every single game, we are trying to find ways to win games. Then towards the end of the season we’ll understand what we’re really good at and what we are not."

Los Angeles is now 20-12 for the season, fourth in the Western Conference ahead of Wednesday's road game against the Phoenix Suns, who have won four straight games.

Bradley Beal scored 21 points as the surging Suns beat the Portland Trail Blazers 109-88, even with Kevin Durant sidelined by right hamstring tightness.

As for the Heat, they will stay in Los Angeles before playing the Lakers on Wednesday.

Bam Adebayo paced Miami with 21 points and 15 rebounds but the Heat have now dropped two straight following a four-game winning streak and are fifth in the Eastern Conference.

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