Kawhi Leonard offers candid outlook for Clippers following return from knee injury

By | November 18, 2022

Kawhi Leonard is back.

After missing 12 straight games with soreness in his right knee, the five-time All-Star returned in LA’s 96-91 victory over Detroit on Thursday. The Clippers improved to 9-7 with the win while the Pistons fell to 3-13.

How did Leonard play in his return from injury? Let’s take a closer look.

MORE: Doctor explains potential causes and concerns of Kawhi Leonard’s knee setback

How did Kawhi Leonard look in his return from injury?

LA’s matchup with Detroit marked Leonard’s third game of the 2022-23 season and his first since Oct. 23.

Leonard came off the bench in his previous two games, but he started against the Pistons and played a season-high 24 minutes. While he did a little bit of everything to the tune of six points, five rebounds and four assists, he showed some rust by shooting 2-for-8 from the field, 0-for-3 from the 3-point line and 2-for-4 from the free throw line.

Leonard still had a few vintage plays, such as this fadeaway over Pistons guard Killian Hayes in the first quarter:

He also had this strong finish down the stretch:

The Clippers outscored the Pistons by 26 points in Leonard’s minutes on the court, giving him the highest plus-minus of the game.

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said afterward that he thought Leonard moved well overall and mentioned both his defensive impact and the “calmness” he provides with the ball in his hands. 

What Kawhi Leonard’s return means for Clippers

Both Leonard and the Clippers continue to preach patience.

After the game, Leonard talked about how it’s still going to take a while to fully recover from the ACL injury that sidelined him all of last season.

“This is the easy part now because I’m able to get in the game and play,” he said. “But last season, it was a long season with doing what I can to strengthen the knee and strengthen my whole body. Knowing I’m not going to be able to touch the floor was pretty draining. But I pushed hard to get to this point now.

“It’s still going to be a long journey, but I just have to keep fighting.”

Lue, meanwhile, said Leonard will continue to be evaluated on a day-by-day basis.

“I really don’t know,” Lue said. “It’s going to be game-by-game and day-by-day with making sure he feels good. We’re going to ride our medical staff on this one, and see how it plays out. Just seeing how he feels is the most important thing. It’s not like he has to check any boxes.”

When healthy, Leonard is one of the best players in the NBA. In addition to his five All-Star selections, he’s earned five All-NBA selections, seven All-Defensive selections, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, two championships and two Finals MVP awards.

The Clippers have one of the deeper teams in the NBA, but they’ll need Leonard and Paul George to be at full strength and at their best to compete in a loaded Western Conference.

The Clippers have managed to keep their head above water without Leonard to start this season. After losing three of their first four games without him, they’re since 6-3 in the games he’s missed.

MORE: Breaking down Kawhi Leonard’s injury history

Clippers 2022-23 schedule

Here are the next five games on LA’s schedule:

Date Opponent Time TV channel
Nov. 19 vs. Spurs 10:30 p.m.
Nov. 21 vs. Jazz 10:30 p.m NBA TV
Nov. 23 at Warriors 10:00 p.m. ESPN
Nov. 25 vs. Nuggets 10:30 p.m. NBA TV
Nov. 27 vs. Pacers 4:00 p.m.