After losing the first two games of this Western Conference Semifinals series against the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Clippers have stormed back, won two straight on their home court, and they now play a vital Game 5 tonight in Utah. Game 4 was a big win for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it came at a price.
With just over 4 minutes to go in the fourth quarter with the Clippers leading the Jazz 107-91, Kawhi Leonard checked out of the game after appearing to injure his knee. On a drive, Kawhi was fouled by Joe Ingles and came up looking a little hobbled before leaning over and clutching at his right knee.
Los Angeles originally took Leonard out of the game as precaution and he continued to play around with that right knee on the bench, but when asked about his knee after the game, Kawhi Leonard told reporters when asked about his injury, “I’m good, next question.” It was a little weird at first that Leonard did not want to talk about what had happened or if he was in pain, but hey, it is Kawhi Leonard and you just never know with this guy!
However, news broke today via ESPN that Kawhi Leonard will miss tonight’s Game 5 matchup against the Jazz in Salt Lake City due to injury and he could be out for the remainder of the series. The Clippers are calling this injury a “right knee sprain,” but Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting that Leonard is dealing with a right ACL injury. There is no telling the extent of the damage yet and if the Clippers’ 2x Finals MVP is dealing with a torn ACL or not.
Right now, Leonard’s knee is “severely swollen” according to sources and further imagining and evaluation will not be done until the swelling subsides a little, which is why Kawhi Leonard is out indefinitely as of right now.
With this series tied at 2-2 and this year being deemed “the year” for the Clippers as an organization, this is a very tough blow for them. The Utah Jazz are not just some secondary team anymore, they finished the regular season with the best record in the league and right now, the
Paul George has his defining moment with Kawhi Leonard outy are favored to win this series over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Losing Kawhi Leonard at this moment could not only be detrimental to their chances of winning this series against the Jazz, but this could change the L.A. Clippers organization forever. Leonard has a $36M player option for next season that nobody really knows what he is going to do with in the offseason, meaning this injury could play a big part in this too if he is going to require surgery.
Looking at this series against the Jazz as a whole though, without Kawhi Leonard, things get very complicated for the Clippers. They have struggled offensively at times, but now, all of the weight of this franchise falls on the shoulders of Paul George.
Now is when we truly get to see what Paul George is made of and if “Playoff P” really is something to be in “awe” about. George has received a ton of scrutiny over the years because of his inconsistent play, but without his All-Star counterpart next to him on the court, this Clippers team is his now.
Paul George is not only going to need to be spectacular for the Clippers to have a chance in this series against the Utah Jazz, but he is also going to need guys like Reggie Jackson, Nic Batum and Marucs Morris Sr. to step up next to him. Morris Sr. is going to also have a lot of weight fall on his shoulders because now, he needs to hit shots on one end and help rebound on the other end.
Los Angeles has had a lot of success the last couple of games with their “small-ball” lineup with Nic Batum/Marcus Morris Sr. playing the center position, but now without Kawhi Leonard, who is their best rebounder in this series, we may see the Clippers go big again and work guys like Ivica Zubac and DeMarcus Cousins back into the rotation.
Keeping Utah off the glass has helped the Clippers get back into this series and even things up at 2-2, which is why tightening things up defensively and going back to a traditional bigger lineup may be the direction they head in.
With Kawhi Leonard’s injury, it is hard to imagine that the Los Angeles Clippers can do anything special. He is one of the Top-15, Top-10 players in the entire league and without him, the Clippers lose an irreplaceable chunk of production on both ends of the court.
Slowing things down and locking themselves in defensively is the only way the Clippers can advance to the Western Conference Finals at this pace, but given how great the Utah Jazz are on offense, this is going to be a very tall task for the Clippers. It is a “cop-out answer,” but Game 5 will tell us a lot about how the rest of this series will play out without Kawhi Leonard on the court.