In what has become a disturbingly familiar pattern, another NBA star is looking at extended time on the bench because of a postseason injury and this time, it could knock out a potential championship contender.
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard will be out for the Game 5 showdown between Utah and L.A. in the Western Conference semifinals because of a knee injury he suffered late in the Clippers Game 4 win over the Jazz, which evened their series at 2-2.
Worse, Windhorst reported, “His status for rest of series is in doubt as well.”
UPDATE: The Clippers confirmed Leonard’s Game 5 status:
This is an enormous blow for the Clippers, as Leonard has been the team’s most consistent player throughout the playoffs, averaging 30.4 points per game with 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists. He has been extremely efficient as a shooter, too, making 57.3% from the field and 39.3% from the 3-point line in the postseason. to
In the fourth quarter of Game 4, Leonard took a bump from Jazz forward Joe Ingles and knocked his knee as he took a shot. Leonard still went to the line to shoot, but was clearly in pain, noticeably grimacing as he took his shots. He left the game thereafter, with 4:48 to play.
Leonard had previously shrugged off the injury when asked about it after Game 4, stating, “I’m good. … Next question.”
NBA Playoffs Marred by Major Injuries
The news comes on the heels of more news about a major star being forced out of action in the NBA postseason.
On Wednesday morning, it was revealed that Phoenix star point guard Chris Paul is entering the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol. It is unclear how long Paul will be out, but he has been vaccinated, so there is a chance he can return fairly soon.
Paul was the driving force behind the Suns’ sweep of the Nuggets in the conference semifinals, as he averaged 25.5 points, 10.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds in the Denver series.
In the Eastern Conference, the second round has been similarly hampered by injuries to stars. First James Harden of the Nets missed Games 2-4 of Brooklyn’s series against the Bucks, returning for Game 5 — in which he shot 1-for-10 from the field. Then Nets star Kyrie Irving went down, too, with an ankle sprain. He missed Game 5.
Sixers center Joel Embiid, meanwhile, has been playing with a torn meniscus in his knee in the other Eastern Conference semifinal, which stands 2-2 against Atlanta. Embiid has played through the pain, but was awful — 0-for-12 — in the second half of the Sixers’ Game 4 loss to the Hawks.
The Lakers’ Anthony Davis and the Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell are among the stars who were injured in the first round, with the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray and the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown having been ruled out before the playoffs started. Mike Conley of Utah has been out in the Clippers-Jazz series, too.
Clippers Attempting to Make History
The Clippers are attempting to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, though they have not made it easy on themselves. L.A. lost the first two games of its first-round series against the Mavericks before coming back to win in seven games.
Similarly, the Clippers lost the first two games of the Jazz series before coming back to tie up the Jazz. That was in large part because of Leonard, who scored 65 points combined in Games 3 and 4. He also unleashed one of the highlights of the playoffs, this dunk over Derrick Favors:
But Leonard said on Monday that he is not much concerned with the West finals — he has bigger goals in mind for this team.
“I don’t care about the Western Conference finals,” Leonard said. “We’re trying to win the championship. Obviously, that’s the next step but I’m not even looking at that. So I don’t even know if we can take criticism. I don’t know what’s going on in the outside world.”
He will have some time, unfortunately, to see what’s going on in the outside world, as his goal to win a championship fades.