Kawhi has 6 in return: recovery “a long journey”

LOS ANGELES — Saying it can take “two years” to recover from an ACL tear, Kawhi Leonard returned to the court and started his first game of the season with the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

Leonard played 24 minutes, scored six points, grabbed five rebounds and had four assists to help the Clippers pull off an ugly 96-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons at Crypto.com Arena.

After that, Leonard didn’t go into detail on what kept him away from a 12-game winning streak after he started the season playing in two of his first three games off the bench with the Clippers.

“Just rehab, get ready. I’m not going to explain it because I’m not a doctor, nobody’s in this one. So I’m just back, ready to get down on the floor,” Leonard said of what he’s been going through since experiencing a stiffness in his surgically repaired right knee on Oct. 25. “

Leonard began play with the minutes watched, the first 5 minutes, 47 seconds of the first quarter. He scored another 5:46 in the second quarter and 5:56 in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Leonard played seven minutes but was forced out with 2:43 remaining.

The Clippers are thrilled to have Leonard back but admit it’s like starting over as everyone adjusts to the franchise player back in the mix and increasing his backup minutes.

Leonard confirmed that his return from a torn right ACL suffered in Game 4 of Round 2 against Utah on June 14, 2021, will be a long process.

“Like I said before, at the beginning of the season, it’s going to be a long journey,” Leonard said. “Anterior cruciate ligament recovery isn’t just one year. Everyone thinks that, but it’s a two-year process, so I know that and I’m going through the process.”

Fortunately for the Clippers, they were leading 88-81 when Leonard was forced out for the rest of the game after the Pistons trailed by 12.

Leonard has only shot 2-for-8 from the field and has seen his scoring streak pick up double figures in 177 consecutive regular season games, the third-longest active streak in the NBA behind LeBron James (1,106) and Luka Doncic (180), according to ESPN Stats and Information Research. The last time Leonard failed to score in double digits was on December 18, 2017, against the Clippers.

But Leonard still made a huge impact — he was a plus-26 on Earth.

“I’m just trying to remind him that he’s Kawhi Leonard,” said Reggie Jackson, who scored 23 points. “He’s special. He’s one of the best players to ever play his game, and we have the utmost confidence in him no matter the score. We had total confidence in him no matter what his baseline said at the time. I don’t care if he hits his shots. No I care if he turns it around. He’s who he is for a reason, and we’ll ride with him at four.”

Leonard was previously listed as out, but his status was upgraded to question in the Thursday morning shooting round and he was declared good to play before the tip-off.

After playing in two of the first three games of the season, and coming off the bench both times, Leonard suffered a stiffness in his surgically repaired right knee in a shootout the morning before a game in Oklahoma City on October 25.

Coach Tyronn Lue said he wanted Leonard to start because he didn’t like the process of benching Leonard midway through the second quarter on his first assignment the way the Clippers did in their first two games. The design of that was to allow Leonard to finish the fourth quarter long and not have him sit out too long between game time.

“After she played those first two games, she was already dead,” Leonard said of his preference to start or come off the bench. T-Lue wanted me to start the matches and get us to go in the flow. So, before I sit down [12 straight games] I knew I would start. “

Now the Clippers are waiting to see how Leonard’s knee responds to his first game in nearly a month.

“Like I said, it’s a two-year process,” Leonard asked if he had moved beyond his previous 12 games. “Everyone thinks it’s a one-year process, but we don’t know. We’ll see what happens once we keep moving forward.”

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