Just before tipoff against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, Kawhi Leonard was scratched from the LA Clippers’ starting lineup.
The media members covering the game, along with the TNT broadcast crew, were perplexed, as Leonard appeared healthy during pregame warmups, and Head Coach Tyronn Lue said nothing about an injury during his pregame press conference. Some even feared this out-of-nowhere substitution could’ve been COVID-related, either due to a positive/inconclusive test or contact tracing.
But these theories were put to rest midway through the first quarter, when NBA insider Shams Charania tweeted that Leonard was out with back spasms.
The Clippers were forced to play without Leonard, and lost a nail-biter to Boston, 117-112.
After the game, Lue revealed that these back spasms “happened in the Milwaukee game,” referring to Sunday night’s matchup against the Bucks. Leonard, Lue and the team’s medical staff must’ve come to the conclusion after pregame warmups that he was not good to go against the Celtics. Lue also said that he is unsure whether Leonard will play on Thursday against the Washington Wizards, the Clippers’ last game before the All-Star break.
At this point in Leonard’s career, it’s safe to pencil in missed games due to injuries like these every season. He missed time earlier this year due to a lower left leg contusion, and sat in back-to-back scenarios last season as a precaution. The Clippers are going to err on the side of safety in these situations, as they understand that Leonard’s value is most needed in the postseason.
With the All-Star break approaching, it wouldn’t be surprising if Leonard misses Thursday’s game. He might even sit out the All-Star game (he’s expressed his disinterest in it in the past), which would open up another roster spot for a Western Conference hopeful (Mike Conley, anyone?). Here’s hoping Leonard is fully healthy when the season resumes next week.