Kawhi Leonard’s injury has forced him to sit out Game 3 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ first-round series against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night. The team confirmed that he is suffering from a knee sprain, which he first sustained during Game 1.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s condition will be monitored day-to-day, with hopes he can return for Game 4.
Clippers president Lawrence Frank expressed Leonard’s disappointment at being unable to play in Game 3, but did not provide any details on the extent of his injury.
It is unclear when Kawhi Leonard’s injury was aggravated since he played over 80 minutes in Games 1 and 2 and did not leave the court due to discomfort. Clippers beat writer Law Murray hypothesized that a play in the third quarter of Game 1, similar to the one that resulted in Leonard’s ACL tear in the 2021 playoffs, may have caused the injury. However, this remains speculation.
Kawhi Leonard spent the entire 2021-22 season in rehabilitation for his knee injury and engaged in load management throughout the season. He sat out for 20 of the Clippers’ initial 27 games and only played six consecutive games, which were split between either side of the All-Star break.
Despite limited appearances, Leonard’s plan seemed to be effective. In the regular season, he performed impressively, averaging 23.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists with shooting splits of 51.2%, 41.6%, and 87.1%, respectively.
This trend continued in the first two games of the series, with Leonard contributing 69 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists, and four steals on 24-of-44 shooting from the field. These exceptional performances helped the Clippers gain an advantage by securing home-court.
According to Wojnarowski, Kawhi Leonard’s knee injury is not related to his previous torn ACL, despite both injuries occurring in his right knee.
Prior to this series, the Clippers were already dealing with the absence of Paul George, who had sustained a knee sprain during a March 21 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although George has returned to on-court activities, Wojnarowski reports that he is not expected to play in the first round.
The Clippers were already significant underdogs against the high-powered Suns led by Kevin Durant and Devin Booker due to George’s absence, but their hopes were revived after earning a split in Phoenix.
However, the news of Kawhi Leonard’s injury has significantly drained their optimism. It is highly unlikely that the Clippers will be able to win Game 3 without both of their star players, and even if Leonard is available for Game 4 and beyond, he is likely to play at less than 100%.
While the series is far from over, the Clippers have once again been plagued with bad luck in the playoffs.