Serge Ibaka has had a fantastic start to his Clipper tenure. He is shooting 71.4 percent on 2-pointers, 36.4 percent on threes, and averaging more points and defensive rebounds per 36 minutes than any season of his career to date. Ibaka is also at his highest block rate since 2015.
But one mistake has Ibaka on Kawhi Leonard’s bad side, at least for the moment.
After making direct contact with Leonard’s jaw during the team’s Christmas Day victory over Denver, Ibaka is in the doghouse. Leonard is now in a unique mask due to his mouth laceration, and as he told the media in his first press conference since the injury, that has made Leonard the victim of some name-calling. The blame for that falls squarely on Ibaka.
“They start calling me leatherface and stuff,” Leonard said. “But Serge can’t talk too much, we got him on the trading block right now. So whoever wants him, let us know, we’re trying to trade Serge.”
“Serge can’t talk too much. We got him on the trading block right now. Whoever wants him, let us know.”— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) December 31, 2020
Kawhi Leonard says Serge Ibaka is on the trade block after injuring him #Clippers pic.twitter.com/01Qf0Swddr
All jokes aside, it was a relief to see Leonard back on the floor after a two-game injury absence. He said that the delay in him returning to the court was that he couldn’t really talk and open his mouth with the stitches at first.
There was also the issue of finding a face covering that could protect his specific injury. The training staff had to create a new mask specifically for him, which is why the look was so strange.
“Just where the injury is, it’s a little difficult,” Leonard said. “Some guys have cheek fractures or they break their nose, and mine is really like trying to protect the stitches from getting hit and ripped, so it’s a different scenario, you’re trying to protect the lips and my jaw and my cheek. You know it’s hard to do and that’s what I’m saying it’s kind of hard to breathe, cuz you can’t really expose my mouth so much, you have to bring it out and put a hole in. But there’s a whole process to it. You know, we’re still trying to work on something better but worked out pretty well tonight, I might have to get a mouthpiece or something.”
Leonard also said the mask made it difficult to breathe, and even though his vision was obscured, merely having something on his face took some getting used to. He’ll have to keep wearing it until the stitches heal, but there’s no definite timetable for that. Until then, the leatherface moniker will stick, though apparently his teammates are teasing him in private. Head coach Ty Lue pleaded ignorance when asked about the name-calling.
“I didn’t pay attention to it, but I don’t think anyone did,” Lue said. “I’m just glad, I think everyone was happy to see him back on the floor.”
Masked or not, Leonard is a force to be reckoned with in the game. He proved that against Portland Wednesday as he and the Clippers capped off 2020 with another decisive win.