LOS ANGELES — Kawhi Leonard celebrated ditching his protective mask with a milestone afternoon at Staples Center, his steady hand guiding his team past Zach LaVine and an otherwise undermanned Chicago Bulls team to a 130-127 victory in Sunday’s matinee.
Since he suffered a mouth laceration on Christmas that required eight stitches, Leonard had been wearing a plastic, specially constructed covering to protect his jaw. He made no secret of his distaste for the device, which made it hard to breathe, he said.
Finally free of the contraption, he breathed life into the Clippers Sunday with a superb third quarter in which he notched his 10,000th career point and put up single-period career-bests of 21 points and hit five 3-pointers in that 11:58 of action.
LaVine was, for much of the game, a one-man answering machine — many of his game-high 45 points immediately following makes by the Clippers’ stars. He hit a career-best 10 3s, converting on 16 of his attempts from behind the arc. His 10th, over a hard-charging Marcus Morris Sr., came with 17 second to go and cut the Clippers’ lead to 126-125.
After that, the Bulls fouled to stop the clock, sending Paul George to the free throw line for four shots — all of which he converted to put the game out of reach.
Leonard finished with 35 points and George added 28, including going 5 for 8 from long range, marking his sixth game this season with at least five makes from behind the arc.
The other Clippers got in on the action too; as a team, the Clippers shot 20 for 38 from 3-point range, the most made 3s this season, and just the fifth time in franchise history they’ve knocked down so many.
Off the bench, Lou Williams made the most of his 23 minutes with 21 points. In his third game back after missing time with right knee soreness, Morris finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.
Their efforts helped the Clippers improve to 1-1 in daytime starts, and 7-4 overall.
Tyronn Lue’s squad rolled out of bed and got right back to work Sunday, their 1 p.m. date with the Chicago Bulls leaving them with not much time to recalibrate or lick their wounds after they blew a 22-point lead late in Friday night against the Golden State Warriors.
In contrast with their previous matinee a couple weeks ago — that 51-point loss to Minnesota that Leonard watched, his stitches fresh, from the sidelines at Staples Center — the Clippers successfully rubbed the sleep out of their eyes before things gout out of hand Sunday, cutting Chicago’s early 13-point lead to just one point before halftime.
And although they trailed by seven points at break, Leonard’s momentous third-quarter — he went 8 for 9 and made all five of his 3-point attempts and added two steals and two assists — helped the Clippers claim enough momentum to outlast the Bulls (4-7) who were without five players, including four — Ryan Carcidiacono, Chandler Hutchinson, Lauri Markkanen and Tomas Satoranksy — who were away from the team due to coronavirus health and safety protocol.
More to come on this story.
Source: Orange County Register