Paul George has been leading the Los Angeles Clippers to the best of his ability to start the 2022-23 season. He has had to carry a bigger workload with Kawhi Leonard out due to injury, but his partner in crime returned on Thursday night.
Leonard made his return to the Clippers following a 12-game absence. This time, he started the game instead of coming off the bench. That helped the team develop a rhythm en route to a 96-91 win over the visiting Detroit Pistons.
Kawhi Leonard finished with six points, five rebounds, and four assists in 25 minutes while totaling a game-high plus/minus of plus-26. While he didn’t shoot well (2-of-8 from the field, 0-of-3 from 3), he clearly made a major impact on the game.
“It’s obviously great, I know he’s been through a lot,” Paul George said of Kawhi Leonard’s return. “It’s good to finally be rewarded for the work that he’s put into getting back to this point. It was great to have him out there, though. His presence, his energy, I think who he is, his, his presence on that court, is always felt. So it was good to have him back out there.”
Leonard made his season debut on Opening Night for the Clippers, helping to defeat the Lakers. He played his second game against the Suns on Oct. 23 before being shut down with what the team called “knee stiffness.” 25 days and 12 games later, Leonard emerged Thursday looking a bit slimmer than the last time he took the court.
There was certainly some rust Leonard has to play through, but just having him on the court opened up a significant amount for the Clippers.
“Just happy to have him back,” George added. “He’s a professional, he’s been down that road of being out, coming back, so it wasn’t nothing new to him. It was just good for him to get another under his belt, and keep continuing from here.”
While the end result was a Clippers win highlighted by Leonard’s return, the game itself was ugly. The Clippers trailed by double digits to the 3-12 Detroit Pistons and struggled to get anything going offensively for most of the game.
Reggie Jackson had his best game of the season with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, leading the Clippers past what was starting to look like another loss. George, who is dealing with a left hand contusion, finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, and three assists.
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“It’s a little bit of everything,” Paul George explained. “We gotta attack better, we gotta screen better, we gotta be more aggressive. We gotta shoot the open ones.
“I think we just, we gotta trigger, we gotta make better triggers. Two years ago, we did a great job with triggering rotations and playing in the paint and kicking the ball out for open 3s. I think we gotta get back to that. Gotta find a way to get that. But obviously we can be doing a lot of things better offensively.”
The Clippers’ next game will come against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night. Kawhi Leonard (knee) and Paul George (hand) will likely both have their bodies monitored over the next 24-36 hours before determining their statuses for that game. LA is 9-7 on the season, which is just 1.5 games behind the top seed amid the crowded Western Conference standings.