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Kawhi Leonard, Paul George speak out on missing games due to NBA’s COVID-19 protocols

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Clippers, COVID-19 2

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George returned to the LA Clippers lineup in blistering fashion Friday night. After missing the last two games and being away from the team for more than four days due to the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, both Leonard and George re-joined the team Friday morning and were made available to play in the contest against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Clippers blew out the Magic 116-90, led by 26 points from Paul George on an efficient 10-of-19 shooting from the field. Kawhi Leonard also poured in 24 points on an efficient 8-of-15 shooting. For the entire night, it appeared LA’s star duo hadn’t missed a beat despite away for nearly a week.

“[We’re] super-relieved, we were both healthy, first and foremost,” George told reporters following Friday night’s game. “We were playing so well, it was unfortunate that we had to take a hiatus, but safety’s first. We acknowledge that first and foremost.”

In fact, each player had a point in the game in which they showed off the fresh legs and the explosiveness. George did it with a first quarter dunk over Nikola Vucevic. Leonard followed up with a dunk over Aaron Gordon.

News came down early Monday morning that both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George would not be joining the Clippers to start their upcoming six-game road trip. Their status was entirely up in the air once they entered the league’s health and safety protocols.

“I mean, it was a bummer because we were on a good roll, and me and PG go out,” Leonard said after his first game back. “That’s my mindset around it, just want to play basketball, and wanting to keep building on our chemistry and get better. But you know, we understand what the protocols are and it was a chance for guys to step up and play a bigger role.”

The league has made changes to their protocols over the last few weeks as cases began to rise within teams like the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies. After last Sunday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clippers’ star duo may have come into contact with someone who had COVID-19.

Since then, the NBA conducted its contact tracing routine while monitoring the duo’s test results. Following four consecutive days of negative tests and contact tracing, both George and Leonard were cleared to re-join the team.

“[We were] just trying to stay in shape and watching our games,” Leonard added regarding the last five days. “Communicating with the coaches, seeing what our coverages are, just trying to keep my mind in it. That’s pretty much it.”

Without their two stars, the Clippers lost a very winnable game to the Atlanta Hawks, but rallied together to beat a shorthanded Miami Heat team.

“They played great,” George explained. “Down three guys, I thought they really brought it together, they played for another. They didn’t make excuses. They went out there and knew they had a job to do and they carried out the job. I thought they could have very easily won in Atlanta but I know it’s tough. Those guys were tired, some guys were playing minutes that they aren’t used to. It was a bit of adjustment and adversity for them in that game but I loved the way they have been playing. They have been keeping me going. Proud of those guys. It just made it that much better for us coming back and being back with our group.”

COVID-19 has ravaged its way through the NBA, hitting star players like Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, and Karl Anthony Towns. It’s also forced teams to miss an entire weeks-worth of games in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19, which has killed over 400,000 people in the United States alone..

With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George back in action, the Clippers look to continue their winning ways throughout the regular season. Through the first quarter of the season, LA is the only team that has to drop two consecutive games all year.

Through 16 appearances this season, Leonard is averaging 25.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.9 steals per game on 50.7 percent shooting. Paul George has been just as good this year, averaging 24 points 6.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.2 steals per game on 50.6 percent shooting.