After their playoff collapse in the bubble, there was a lot of pressure on the Clippers to prove themselves this season, but early on they faced some of the same struggles that made them a laughing stock last summer. In particular, they blew a 22-point lead to the Golden State Warriors, a defeat which prompted Kawhi Leonard to make a rare public criticism of the team.
“I’m not about to tell you what we’re doing in the locker room,” Leonard said. “It’s locker room talk… We just have to change, pretty much. We’ve got to change it. We’ve got to get better.”
To their credit, they have been, thanks in large part to Leonard, who is leading by example. On Sunday, with injuries preventing both Patrick Beverley and Paul George from finishing the game, Leonard once again stepped up. In one of his best performances of the season, he finished with 34 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to drag the Clippers past a pesky Oklahoma City Thunder team, 108-100.
The win was the Clippers’ seventh in a row, as they remained undefeated since blowing that lead against the Warriors, and improved their record to 13-4, which is tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the best mark in the league. Sure, the schedule hasn’t been the toughest, but you can only beat who’s in front of you, and the Clippers have taken care of business.
“He’s been phenomenal for us, and tonight, we had to ride him,” Clippers head coach Ty Lue said about his star forward after Sunday’s win. “Kawhi had it going so we played through him a lot, especially in that second half.”
But while Sunday’s performance stood out, Leonard has been brilliant throughout the winning streak. Over that stretch, Leonard has put up 29.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game, while shooting 57 percent from the field, 48.7 percent from 3-point land and 96.9 percent from the free throw line.
In a strange and difficult season, a steady presence like Leonard is a massive advantage for the Clippers. You don’t have to worry about him getting too high or too low, nor whether or not he’s going to be ready to go on a nightly basis. Amid all the chaos, Leonard will be there every night competing on both ends of the floor.