Los Angeles star Kawhi Leonard missed out on Game 3’s action of the playoffs first-round against Phoenix last night, as he had to watch from the sidelines how his team lost 129 to 124, leaving the series 2-1 in favor of the Suns.
According to the Clippers president of basketball operations, Lawrence Frank, the player suffered a sprained right knee at the end of Game 1 this past Sunday. Even though he played through Game 2, the injury simply got worse and the medical staff preferred to rest him instead of risking it evolving into a long-term issue.
Take a look at the exact moment when Kawhi injured his knee last weekend:
#ClipperNation Kawhi Leonard appeared to suffer his right knee sprain on this play in Game 1
Read why our panel of doctors have optimism he can return for Game 4
— Sports Injury Central (@SICscore) April 20, 2023
“He desperately, desperately wants to play,” Frank said before the match started. “He’s extremely disappointed.”
The foward’s absence left the Los Angeles side without their star athletes, considering that Paul George hasn’t played for over a month now as he also sprained his right knee during a regular season contest and is still in rehab. On the other hand, Phoenix has their star trio healthy in Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Chris Paul.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue felt bad that Leonard has been preparing all year long for this moment and is frustrated on the sidelines. “I feel sorry for Kawhi because he worked so hard to get to this point,” the trainer said. “All the guys got to step up and they understand. We’re locked in and focused and we’re ready to go.”
The foward veteran watched Game 3 from the bench in casual clothes and wasn’t seen limping at the arena.
“If we weren’t comfortable with him playing, we wouldn’t have (in Game 2), but like I said, after the game, just things didn’t get better, they got worse,” Frank said. “So we ruled him out for tonight and take it day-by-day.”
Leonard is averaging 34.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6 assists through the first two contests of this complicated series against the Suns. Let’s remember that the two-time NBA Finals MVP missed all of last year’s campaign as he recovered from surgery for a torn right ACL.
Norman Powell took the spotlight in Game 3 in Kawhi’s absence
As their main offensive player was out, Norman Powell took the spotlight and led the Clippers by scoring a career playoff-high 42 points on 15-of-23 shooting. His teammate Russell Westbrook added 30 points and 11 assists throughout the night.
Check out the 29-year-old’s performance from his team’s loss this Thursday:
“We gotta stick to our game plan,” veteran star Westbrook said after the game. “I’ll probably say to myself that there were too many turnovers, five in the first half. I think that’s probably a place where we have self-afflicted wounds, we lost 16 points in the first half just from turnovers.”
Now both teams keep their concentration focused on Game 4 this Saturday in Los Angeles (3:30 p.m. ET). Overall this season, the Clippers have kept a poor 3-10 record when both Leonard and George are out of the starting lineup.