Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Paul George relieved to return to lineup after absence due to COVID-19 protocols

After missing two games each due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were back out on the court for the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, and their presence helped propel the Clippers to a 116-90 victory over the Orlando Magic. Leonard and George combined for 50 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists in the win. Needless to say, the two star forwards were happy to be back out on the floor with their teammates. 

“[We’re] super-relieved, we were both healthy, first and foremost,”  George said, via ESPN. “We were playing so well, it was unfortunate that we had to take a hiatus, but safety’s first. We acknowledge that first and foremost.”

The Clippers had won seven straight games before Leonard and George were forced to miss time. The team split the two games they were out, with a loss in Atlanta and a win in Miami. 

“It was a bummer because we were on a good roll, and me and P.G. go out,” Leonard said. “That’s my mindset around it. Just want to play basketball and wanting to keep building on our chemistry and get better, but understand what the protocols are, and it was a chance for guys to step up and play a bigger role.”  

During their time away from the team, Leonard and George did their best to keep up with the gameplans and everything else that was going on with the Clippers. 

“[We were] just trying to stay in shape and watching our games,” Leonard said of the time away. “Communicating with the coaches, seeing what our coverages are, just trying to keep my mind in it. That’s pretty much it.”

Just like Leonard and George were happy to be back out on the court, Clippers coach Ty Lue was equally excited to have them back in the fold. 

“I think on a night when guys were a little tired, just having their presence was big for us,” Lue said. “It was huge. Just making plays for everybody else, making the game easy. When teams double-team Kawhi or PG on the post-ups or pick-and-roll, it just makes it easier because our guys are getting open shots, so we need those guys tonight.”

A quarter of the way through the current campaign, the Clippers look like a legitimate title contender, thanks largely to the play of Leonard and George. George specifically looks much more comfortable out on the floor this season compared to last season when he was coming off of a pair of shoulder surgeries. 

The Clippers sit just a half a game behind the Utah Jazz for the top seed in the Western Conference, and they are getting solid production up and down the roster. Moving forward, they need to continue to jell as a unit and hope they can remain healthy. If they are able to do those things, they will be an extremely tough out come postseason play. 

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