LOS ANGELES – After a rough stretch with no end in sight, the LA Clippers have won four in a row entering their most important stretch of the season to date. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will play their fifth consecutive game together on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks, where LA will try to win their fifth straight.
The Hawks’ matchup is the first of a six-game road trip that will take the Clippers to Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, and Brooklyn before returning home for another homestand heading into the All-Star break. Leonard and George have looked good together over the last week, and there’s no reason the duo shouldn’t continue to play well over the next few weeks so long as they remain healthy.
“Yeah, I mean that’s, that’s exactly what it is,” Paul George said on health playing the biggest role in this latest run. “Not only are me and Kawhi healthy, but the guys around us are healthy and everybody’s contributing. Just our style of play, we’re trusting however way the game dictates, like who shoots it, we’re trusting that process. And so it’s showing.”
Over the last week in which the Clippers have gone 4-0, Kawhi Leonard averaged 29.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.5 steals per game on an absurd 64.7 percent shooting from the field and 47.4 percent from three.
In the same 4-0 stretch, Paul George averaged 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.3 steals per game on 60.2 percent shooting from the field and 47.8 percent from three.
“Definitely just getting Paul back and us playing together,” Leonard explained as the reason for the team recent progression and improvement. “We still have to improve as a team if we want to be one of the last teams standing and hopefully we could just keep building this consistency up. We’ve got another game in two days, so hopefully we come out better with the same energy, same emergency, and let’s get a win.”
Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue agreed that the return of his two stars has re-fueled everything.
“I think just creating for other guys and when they’re on the floor, they cause so much attention, getting guys open shots. Nico, RoCo, Marcus. Reggie, back to being able to catch and shoot. So they’ve done a good job of just scoring the basketball. But also making the right play. And we’re getting into the paint, we’re totally a different team. And when those two guys play, we’re a totally different team. So we understand that. And now guys are getting easier shots. We’re able to put two on the ball. We’re able to get to the paint more. So that’s what’s helped the offense out tremendously.”
The Clippers have won 72 percent of their games when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George play together. Thursday’s game was just the duo’s 100th regular season game together in four seasons, which makes the 72-28 record all the more staggering.
A six-game losing streak and nine losses in 11 games certainly seemingly took the life out of team that’s played below what’s expected of them. Players remained upbeat and confident, but struggled to find the exact causes for their slow starts or inconsistent performances. Of course, the injury history played a significant part in the Clippers’ underwhelming play, but there’s only so much you can blame on injuries.
Despite the losses, the belief in one another never wavered. Once Leonard and George could return, everything appeared to be back on track for the LA Clippers.
“It is easy to see the light [at the end of the tunnel] when you’re going through [injury] situation,” Paul George explained. “It’s just adversity. You gotta deal with some adversity. The season’s not gonna be perfect. And I think us having that mindset that we’re gonna have to play through some things, I think that’s what saved the locker room, because the locker room never folded. I spoke about that a couple times. The locker room never folded. We never got on one another. There was never a jerkiness going on. I think we were just prepared we were prepared that.
‘It’s a long season. It’s a long year, and our training staff do an amazing job of keeping us healthy and getting us back on the floor. So yeah, we just gotta stick to those, our medical group when things get rough. But we gotta pick up pieces when guys do go down. We struggled. We went through a tough patch. But back to the beginning of what you were saying about the tunnel, I think we’re starting to see the light.”
Notes: Luke Kennard made his return to the Clippers lineup from calf soreness and actually started in place of the injured Marcus Morris Sr. against the Spurs on Thursday. Head coach Tyronn Lue said he didn’t expect the move to be a long term one, with Kennard expected back as a reserve once Morris is healthy.
Morris is currently questionable for Saturday’s game against the Hawks with a rib contusion, while Robert Covington is out due to personal reasons and John Wall is out as he recovers from an abdominal strain.