Upon the return of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Luke Kennard, the Los Angeles Clippers got to see the good and the bad side of their stars being out of rhythm, before that star quality eventually got them over the hump against the Charlotte Hornets in a 119-117 come-from-behind victory.
It was George who, of the three, made the fastest possible start, finishing the first half with 12 points and 7 assists. Leonard was a little slower to get himself back among the offensive action, but did finish the half with a positive 12 in the plus/minus report, showing his chops on the defensive side of the ball.
It seemed that the return of that star quality was helping their teammates too, with Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr. and Nicolas Batum all knocking their shots down in the first half and benefiting from the additional spacing – though it was only the Frenchman that had the stamina to keep that up after the break.
The Clippers were outscored 36-21 in the third quarter and suddenly the worst facet of having your top guys miss that much time came to the fore. The energy was lacking and Charlotte made them pay by getting to their spots and knocking down their shots – Terry Rozier in particular had 13 points in the period just after half time.
However, as Jim Jackson said on commentary duty for Bally Sports, the most important thing is to get guys back into a rhythm so that, when things go wrong in the playoffs, they have the reps together to deal with it. While Leonard and George would’ve probably been happier for a blowout and extended rest in their first game back, there is never a bad time to get yourself prepared for the challenges that are to come, particularly those in the postseason.
And it was there that Kawhi answered the call, as he has done so often before. After grabbing a big offensive rebound on a Morris miss and tying the game up, he then defended Rozier on a drive to the hoop on the defensive end, took control of the ball after Charlotte’s subsequent miss and hit a stepback jumper to kill the game.
Given how much time he has missed, it was refreshing to see Leonard getting back to doing Leonard things. In this game, though, you also saw how important it is for the Clippers to be able to rely on their stars night in and night out. If they can do that more often than not going forward, hopefully the blowout wins and extended rest will come.