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Doc Rivers on Kawhi Leonard-Michael Jordan comparison, Kawhi admits to studying MJ

Kawhi Leonard, Doc Rivers, Michael Jordan, Clippers

LOS ANGELES – Kawhi Leonard put on his best Michael Jordan impression once again for the L.A. Clippers on Sunday night when they took down the Utah Jazz, 105-94. Leonard scored 18 of this team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter, leading a furious rally in the final 12 minutes that saw the Clippers outscore the Jazz 40-25.

In addition to his 30 points, Leonard also finished with six rebounds, three assists, three steals, and one block on 9-of-26 shooting from the field and 10-of-12 from the free throw line. The performance was made even more impressive due to Leonard’s first half struggles.

The Jazz led a tight, defense-focused first half, 41-39, with Leonard struggling shooting at just 1-of-9 from the field.

“I’m a guy that feels like just scoring throughout the whole game is pretty key,” said Leonard after the game. “Maybe if I made shots early we wouldn’t have got in that predicament. You can win games in the third quarter, but tonight obviously we needed it.”

And boy, did they.

The Clippers ran off 66 points in the second half, including 40 in the fourth quarter. Leonard was able to fight off the lackluster first half shooting and score 25 points in the second half on 8-of-17 shooting.

“If you’re able to make shots and lead your team to victory I think it’s great,” Leonard continued. “With me I think it’s just about taking advantage of the moment and not shying away, just keep going to your spots and shooting and keep being aggressive for the team and don’t shy away pretty much. That’s what I take my pride in.”

“You’re not gonna make every shot that you shoot to win a game or every shot in the 4th quarter, so to me it’s about keep being aggressive and keep having fun and see what happens with the results.”

Back in June of 2019, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers went on Stephen A. Smith’s NBA Finals preview show, where he discussed Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors as well as Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors. On the show, Rivers praised Leonard and made headlines for calling him, ‘the most like Jordan that we’ve seen.’

“He’s the most like Jordan that we’ve seen,” Rivers said at the time. “Not that he is Jordan or anything like that, but he’s the most like him. Big hands, post-game, can finish, great leaper, great defender, in between game.”

Those comments came a month before Leonard committed to joining Doc’s Clippers. Many claimed Rivers and the team, who spoke to the league about the TV appearance in advance, were tampering in an attempt to get Leonard to go to Los Angeles.

Before Sunday night’s, Rivers was asked if he still feels the same way he did in June having coached Leonard over the last month and seen him in a handful of games. He added a bit of a clarification to his comments comparing Leonard and Jordan.

“I think it’s the same and if the media had been listening to what I was saying, we were saying his body type is the most like Michael Jordan. That’s basically what I was saying. It was the way it was reported that was wrong.

“But we were actually talking about body types and I said there’s no body type more like Michael Jordan than Kawhi and I actually said because of his hands and his length, and I did say part of his game, his in between game, and that took a whole life.”

Doc even admitted he had Lakers fans asking him if he was saying Kawhi is better than Kobe Bryant.

“I got from Lakers fans, ‘does that mean Kawhi was better than Kobe?’ Oh, I was getting all kinds of stuff. I didn’t care one way or the other, other than the 50 [thousand dollars]. Other than that, I could care less.”

Kawhi Leonard, Royce O'Neal, Clippers, Jazz

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Leonard was also asked about the comparison between himself and Michael after Sunday’s game.

“I remember it, I think it was before the summer time he said it,” relayed Leonard.”I think it was during my playoff run. Just one of my friends mentioned that to me that he said that. Initially I just ran over it because I was in playoffs just locked in. But just be able to get recognized for my talents and where I came a long way to where I am now and just showing my hard work is paying off.”

If you’re wondering why Kawhi’s got some Jordan-like moves, especially in the mid-range, don’t be surprised. Leonard says he spent time picking apart some of Jordan’s most effective moves and implementing them into his own game. Take this first-half basket as an example of a shot and footwork Leonard took from Jordan.

“For sure, he’s a guy I studied,” admitted Leonard. “And a lot of other great players. He’s obviously one of the guys that everyone looks up to just from a competitive standpoint, how he approached every game. You just try to nitpick what you can take from him and bring it into yourself.”

As noted earlier, Leonard has already put on his best Jordan face on for the Clippers. Through the first six games, Leonard is the leading fourth quarter scorer in the NBA, averaging 12.6 points in the fourth quarter. The next highest is Damian Lillard, who’s averaging 11.7 percent in the fourth quarter.

Leonard will have a chance to increase his output as the Clippers look to stay undefeated at home Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.