Kawhi Leonard ‘looked well-rested,’ leads Clippers past Blazers behind huge fourth quarter

Kawhi Leonard’s load management has dominated the NBA landscape in recent days. 

While fans are split on where they stand on the issue, one thing is clear: Leonard came to play on Thursday night.

Leonard — after missing Los Angeles’ game on Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks — dropped 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 33 minutes to lead the Clippers to a 107-101 win against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Staples Center. He scored 18 of those points in the fourth quarter, too, helping the Clippers rally back to grab their fourth win in six games.

“I feel good,” Leonard said simply on TNT after the win when asked about his health. “We just won a basketball game tonight.”

The Clippers sat Leonard for the front end of their back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday, a decision that drew intense scrutiny this week. It marked the second time in eight games that Leonard sat for load management, both times coming during back-to-backs. 

The Clippers said ahead of Wednesday’s game that Leonard had been dealing with a knee injury, something the NBA backed them up on. Yet on Wednesday, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said that Leonard “feels great” — comments that resulted in a $50,000 fine from the league on Thursday. 

If he was hurt, he certainly didn’t show it. 

“[Leonard] looked well-rested,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said, via NBC Sports Northwest. “He was able to take it to another gear in the fourth quarter.”

Now, Leonard doesn’t deserve all the credit for Thursday’s win. Lou Williams added 26 points off the bench for the Clippers, and drilled a massive 3-pointer with just 32 seconds left to put Los Angeles up by four. Montrezl Harrell, after posting a career-high 34 points on Wednesday night, scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, too. 

Leonard did, though, look fresh and undoubtedly deserves credit for sparking his team’s late run that led to the six-point win. It’s hard to know if that’s because he sat out of Wednesday’s game, or if he’s just playing incredibly well right now — or some combination of the two. 

What is clear, though, is that the load management debate isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Leonard’s performance made sure of that.

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