The Clippers are in familiar territory after the opener of the Western Conference finals against the Suns on Sunday: They trail the series following their loss to Phoenix. Just as they did in the first round against Dallas. And just as they did in the second round against Utah.
They will attempt to avoid the 0-2 holes that they got into against both of those teams in Game 2, but they will have to do so without star forward Kawhi Leonard, who did not make the trip to Phoenix for the two opening games after having injured his knee in Game 4 of the conference semifinals a week ago.
The Clippers are, oddly enough, not ruling out a return by Leonard. But they’re also not saying what, exactly, is wrong with him other than a “right knee sprain.” There have been rumblings that the injury is to his Leonard’s ACL, but what has not been made clear is whether that ACL is damaged to the point it will need surgery or if Leonard can truly bounce back in time to appear in the playoffs.
Coach Ty Lue did, though, say that Leonard is engaged with the team.
“He’s been very involved,” Lue said. “Even Game 6, down 22 at halftime, he came into the coaches’ office, just talking about different strategies and just wanted to know our game plan, how we are going to start and what’s our coverages and things like that. So he’s very engaged.”
Leonard Keeping Up With Teammates Despite Injury
While it is a mystery for the rest of us what, exactly, is going on with Leonard and his knee, in the locker room, he appears to be as engaged as Lue says he is with the coaches. Certainly, the team misses his production – he was averaging 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the playoffs before the injury – but his teammates say he is chipping in nonetheless.
“Still talking to the team,” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “You know, putting his expertise on the game and just giving advice, pointers for guys that had to fill in for him and guys filling in for roles that are backups now. You know, he’s still being that leader for the team, using his voice. And obviously the situation sucks that he’s in, but he’s engaged as much as he can be right now.”
All things considered, the Clippers held up fairly well in Game 1 against Phoenix. Despite having less than 48 hours from Game 6 vs. Utah to Game 1 vs. the Suns, the Clippers, the game was nip-and-tuck throughout, with 13 ties and 20 lead changes. The Suns took control in the fourth quarter, when the Clippers shot just 34.8% and Paul George was 0-for-5 from the field, but L.A. still cut the lead to two points with 22 seconds to play, but was unable to complete the comeback.
Marcus Morris Also Injured
In addition to Leonard, the Clippers are now struggling with another injury to a frontline rotation player, forward Marcus Morris, who played only five minutes in the second half after injuring his knee. Again, the Clippers did not have much clarification on the injury, but Morris struggled all game, shooting 3-for-11 from the field and scoring just six points.
Asked about Morris after the game, Lue had little to offer. “Not quite sure yet,” he said.
The Clippers are running out of options with the number of injuries they’ve sustained—center Serge Ibaka is already out because of back surgery. It is possible that Lue could dust off Patrick Patterson to fill in for Morris, though it’s more likely that he goes with more time for centers Ivica Zubac and DeMarcus Cousins.