The Los Angeles Clippers are on to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history after knocking off the Utah Jazz in the second round, 4-2. They secured the series with a thrilling 25-point comeback at home in Game 6 on Friday night, and will now take on the Phoenix Suns.
Unfortunately, they’ll do so without their best player, at least to start. Kawhi Leonard suffered a knee injury in Game 4 against the Jazz and has not played since. Details about the injury and his timeline are still a bit unclear, but we do know he won’t travel to Phoenix for Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo.
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The team had previously announced that he suffered a right knee sprain that will keep him out indefinitely, but the injury may be more severe than that. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Clippers fear that Leonard is dealing with an ACL injury. That would be far more detrimental to the Clippers both this season and next if that’s the case.
Leonard injured his knee after landing awkwardly on a drive to the basket during the fourth quarter of Los Angeles’ Game 4 win, which forced him to come out of the game after trying to play on it.
The injury occurred with 5:25 minutes remaining in the game, when Leonard was coming down in a fast break opportunity. Jazz guard Joe Ingles intentionally fouled Leonard to stop the play, but when he bumped into him, Leonard was thrown off balance as he was trying to plant his foot. After the foul was called, Leonard immediately began hopping up and down on his left leg, and was bent over while standing and trying to stretch and massage out his right knee.
Here’s the play where the injury occurred:
The Clippers weren’t in the bonus yet, so after the foul on Ingles, they took the ball out and Jazz guard Bojan Bogdanovic fouled Leonard as he was going up for a mid-range jumper. Before taking his free throws — both of which he missed — Leonard was still stretching out his right knee, and after a few more possessions, he came out of the game with 4:35 left in the game.
After the game, when asked about his knee, Leonard was very short in his response, saying “It’s good, next question.” However, it’s clear the injury is far more serious than Leonard let on.
Losing Leonard for any extended period of time is a massive blow to the Clippers and their chances of advancing to the Finals. The All-Star forward had been spectacular for Los Angeles in the playoffs and averaged 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 11 games.