Clippers coach Ty Lue seems to know the playoff fate of his Los Angeles team hinges on the health of Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard was scratched before the third game in the first-round Western Conference series with the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night. The Clippers lost 129-124 in the first home game in the best-of-seven series and face a cliffhanger around Leonard’s status for Game 4 on Saturday.
“It’s very deflating,” Lue said Thursday. “I think more so for Kawhi, because you have a guy who’s coming off ACL, hasn’t missed a rehab session, eats right, eats clean, does everything he can for his body, works extremely hard to get to this point. Then you have something like this happen. So it’s tough for him, for all the work that he puts in. I feel bad for him.”
Director of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said Leonard injured his right knee in Game 1 and played with minor pain in Game 2. Leonard averaged 34.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists in the first two games, but Frank said the knee issue worsened before Game 3.
Frank also said Thursday the Clippers aren’t counting on the return of injured forward Paul George. George “has made progress” rehabbing a sprained right knee but is not expected to play in the series.
Clippers guard Russell Westbrook felt Leonard still gave the team some life being on the bench and communicating with players during the game as if part of the coaching staff. The tight turnaround to an afternoon game Saturday means Los Angeles has minimal time to negotiate personnel possibilities.
“If he’s not back, we have to rally around each other, support each other, find ways to make something happen,” Westbrook said. “It’s a series. First to four. Get ready for Saturday afternoon.”
Leonard, 31, is a two-time NBA Finals MVP.
–Field Level Media