LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers and Kawhi Leonard took the league by surprise early Wednesday morning when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the star player would be extending his time in LA.
While the timing of the news shocked most, Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank knew some things were just inevitable.
“There was never any doubt that it was going to happen, it was just a matter of when,” stated Frank. “A wise man in sports told me this a long time ago about decision making: ‘if it’s inevitable, do it.’”
Leonard went on to lead the Clippers to victory over the Toronto Raptors later that very night at Crypto.com Arena. He scored 29 points with three rebounds and seven assists over his former club.
Meanwhile the Clippers collectively shot 53% to snag LA’s seventh win in their past eight games.
Turning point: Toronto took command of the first quarter, shooting 65% and denying the Clippers a field goal in the last 2:22. Despite the 32 points in the paint from the Raptors at the half, the Clippers managed to take the one-point lead at halftime off the heels of a Norman Powell three-pointer.
The two teams continued to trade leads after the Raptors outscored LA 35-33 in the third quarter. A 92-91 Toronto lead into the fourth period was erased by a 6-0 scoring run from LA early in the quarter. The Raptors kept it tight in the clutch, trailing at 119-115 with just under 90 seconds. But it was Los Angeles that ultimately ran away with the 126-120 win.
What it means: Los Angeles initiates another win streak and moves to 24-13 for the fourth seed in the Western Conference. The success at Crypto.com Arena continues for the Clippers as they also reach a five-game home win streak (16-4 on the season).
Perhaps the most success could be seen in the starting lineup. Per Law Murray of The Athletic, Los Angeles is 17-4 this season when James Harden, Terance Mann, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Ivica Zubac start on the court.
Hits: Paul George ended the night with 29 points for the Clippers. Fifteen of those came in just the fourth quarter during a collective team rally. Wednesday marks the fifth time this season where George and Leonard both scored at least 25 points in the same game.
Misses: Despite hitting all of their free throws, the Clippers struggled to draw fouls Wednesday, only attempting 13 free throws from the line. Those 13 attempts are just one more than their season low (12) from their loss to Oklahoma City on Dec. 21.
Stat of the game: Aside from the George-Leonard duo, James Harden and Ivica Zubac both finished their bout against Toronto with double-doubles. Harden collected 14 points and 11 assists for his tenth double-double this season. Meanwhile Zubac scored 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Up next: The Clippers embark on a two-game road trip to take on the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves Jan. 12 and 14, respectively. The team will return to Crypto.com Arena Jan 16 when they host Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder.