NBA

Clippers feel good about Leonard return despite loss to Mavericks

By Sports Desk April 24, 2024

The return of Kawhi Leonard was enough to ensure there was positivity from the Los Angeles Clippers despite their loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.

Luka Doncic had 32 points, nine assists and six rebounds and the Mavs secured a 96-93 win to even their Western Conference first-round playoff series at a game apiece.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points and PJ Washington had 18 for the Mavericks, who take the series back to Dallas for Game 3 on Friday.

Leonard had 15 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes in his first game since March 31. He had not played or engaged in any contact practices during that stretch because of inflammation in his surgically repaired knee.

He shot 7-of-17 but missed all five of his 3-point attempts as the Clippers fell short, but his return to action still came as a significant boost.

"Kawhi is one of the best in the world," said Paul George, per ESPN. 

"He is going to find his rhythm. We are going to find our rhythm around him. We feel good about it."

George and James Harden each scored 22 points and Ivica Zubac added 13 with 12 rebounds for the Clippers, who shot 36.8 per cent (32 for 87) from the field and missed 22 of 30 from long range.

The Clippers were ahead 73-67 with 9:32 remaining but the Mavs scored 14 straight points for an 81-73 lead. They did not relinquish the advantage from there.

"Just keep trying to get a rhythm back and obviously try to win a basketball game," Leonard said about his return. 

"We got pretty stagnant in that fourth quarter. I want to just be able to get a rhythm with the team and get a win.

"It has just been about being able to get on the floor and shoot consistent days and being able to run the last few weeks.

"I haven't been on the floor, so the last couple days it felt great and I was able to play.

"This is my first game in 20-something days. We got to be better as a unit overall and it starts with me. And even if my wind is low, I got to find a way."

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    The Mavs, who overcame a late two-point deficit, prevailed 116-107 in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals series, becoming the first NBA side in history to take a 3-0 series lead despite trailing in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter in each game.

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