Kawhi Leonard, Clippers Confident in Finding 'Rhythm' After Game 2 Loss vs. Dallas Mavericks

The LA Clippers remain confident in Kawhi Leonard's outlook to make a strong impact on their first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks after his return from an injury absence.
Apr 23, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots
Apr 23, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots / Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — Despite Kawhi Leonard returning to the lineup after missing nine consecutive games due to right knee inflammation, including the Los Angeles Clippers' Game 1 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, the team fell short, losing Game 2 with a final score of 96-93.

Leonard played 35 minutes after being sidelined for the previous 22 days, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds, and four steals, shooting 7-17 overall and 0-5 from beyond the arc. Acknowledging the difficulty of returning right into postseason play, Leonard emphasized the need for improvement from himself and the unit collectively.

"This is my first game in 20-something days," Leonard said. "We got to be better as a unit overall and it starts with me. And even if my wind is low, I got to find a way."

Apr 23, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots
Apr 23, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots / Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Leonard having an uncharacteristically scoring performance, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue commended his play, highlighting his activity doing the dirty work in the paint on both ends, while being active to get deflections in the passing lanes as well.

“Probably just he’s tired. I thought in the second half, in that third quarter, he really got active, a couple of offensive rebounds, putbacks to kind of get him going," Lue said. "As far as getting a rhythm, as far as his play, he’s been getting his shots and things like that, that’s going to come. But I thought defensively, he did some good things, some steals, some deflections. It’s just good to have him back on the floor, so we’ll be able to make it work.”

The Clippers remain confident in Leonard's trajectory to make a significant impact on this series even though his recovery process didn't align for him to be in rhythm from the beginning of it. Facing a 1-1 series tie, the next two games will be played at American Airlines Center, with Leonard surely being needed to elevate his play and at least steal a game on the road after losing Game 2.

“He’s as good as it comes at getting his shots, the type of shots he wants to get, and creating and generating good looks, so it’s great to have that back," Clippers superstar Paul George said. "But obviously, there is a little adjustment with him coming back, him getting his rhythm, and us playing while having our best player back on the floor with us. That’s all I thought it was.

"The more we get back together, the timing and rhythm with everybody being back together, it’ll get back to where it was," George explained.

Leonard felt the Clippers' offense became too stagnant, particularly in the fourth quarter. He understands the improvement required from himself and the offense as a whole in order to maximize their ability to overcome a tough opponent like the Mavericks.

"Just keep trying to get a rhythm back and obviously try to win a basketball game," Leonard said. "We got pretty stagnant tonight in that fourth quarter. I want to just be able to get a rhythm with the team and get a win."

The Mavericks have emphasized shrinking the floor against the Clippers through two games in the series, a common tactic to play off of "weak" shooters throughout the season. George emphasized the need for his team to play faster as a counter.

“Same as Game 1, I thought they were just doing a great job of packing the paint, junking it up," George said. "Physicality, they’ve definitely been physical, but that’s playoff basketball, nothing out of the norm. But they are doing a great job of packing the paint I would say. We just gotta do a better job, playing a little faster.”

While the Clippers will count on Leonard to find his stride offensively, the Mavericks are fully aware that will happen at some point in this series, whether it's in Game 3 or at a later point.

"As any professional athlete is to sit for a month or three weeks and then come back into a playoff game or a high intense game and play well at that," Mavericks superstar Kyrie Irving said. "I think tonight he showed flashes of his brilliance of what we know Kawhi to be, and we just got to be aware of how much of a different impact he can make on the game.

"When he gets it going, he gets in that rhythm, we just got to be ready to defend him," Irving explained. "That's what we do. He's a great player."

Despite losing Game 2, the Clippers maintain their confidence in their strategy as they reintegrate Leonard into their lineup. Los Angeles recorded shooting percentages of 36.8% from the field and 26.7% from 3-point range, outcomes the team views as anomalies unlikely to repeat.

“Our defense was great. I thought we did a good job defensively when we hold this team to 96 points. You can’t ask for anything better," Lue said. "So offensively just being better, playing with more pace, getting into the paint a little bit more. We missed a lot of shots, but as far as what we did defensively, I take that every day of the week.

"Luka made some tough shots. Kyrie made some tough shots," Lue explained. "We talked about before the series that they are gonna be able to do that but overall to hold this team to 96 points, that’s a really great defensive night. We just got to do a better job of scoring the basketball.”

The series enters a pivotal Game 3 on Friday, with both teams having two days to prepare adjustments and for Leonard to continue to work on regaining prior form.

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Grant Afseth


Grant Afseth is a Dallas Mavericks reporter for MavericksGameday.com and an NBA reporter for NBA Analysis Network. He previously covered the Indiana Pacers and NBA for CNHI's Kokomo Tribune and various NBA teams for USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Follow him on Twitter (@grantafseth), Facebook (@grantgafseth), and YouTube (@grantafseth). You can reach Grant at grantafseth35@gmail.com.