In his first game in more than 15 months, Leonard kicked off his return to the field with his first shot from behind the arc before finishing with 11 points and four rebounds in the Clippers’ 102-97 pre-season win over the Portland Trail Blazers in Seattle. Monday Evening Climate Pledge
“It was fantastic,” Leonard said of playing again for the first time since his ACL rip in Game 4 of the Clippers’ second-round series against the Utah Jazz on June 14, 2021. It’s been the hard work that I’ve been doing for 14, 16 months, just being able to test it and play against an NBA talent, it’s been good.
“Just being there with the guys and talking, I missed. It was such a great experience for me.”
Leonard played just 16 minutes, all in the first half, with Clippers coach Tai Lu choosing to play only the first half. The same scenario also applies to points guard John Wall, who himself returned after a year’s sabbatical and earned five points and three assists off the bench.
The Clippers played their second game in a row in Seattle after defeating Israeli Maccabi Raanana on Friday. But this game felt like more than a regular pre-season competition due to the return of Leonard and Wall’s debut—plus the audience with a Seattle flavor.
With the NBA back in town, Seattle basketball came out in full force with Lenny Wilkins, Sean Kemp, Gary Payton, Detlev Schrempf, Jamal Crawford and Sam Perkins among the attendees as fans chanted “Sonics” multiple times.
For the Clippers, seeing Leonard – who also got two passes and a pair of steals – on the floor again was something they had waited for over a year.
“It was funny because PG [Paul George] He asked me if I had bubbles before the game, like [in] Leonard said, “I’m like, No. There might be a little [chicken] Floating suite there. [But] I felt the same way as if I was approaching any other match today.”
Leonard, who said he “definitely got a lot stronger” after more than 13 months in the gym, used his painting muscles on smaller defenders to chart trips to the free-throw line. He didn’t shoot as efficiently as Leonard, making a 3-for-8 off the field, but his timing would come.
The most important thing was the return of Leonard and his exit from the match in good health.
“The body feels good,” Leonard said. “Obviously, I’m not going to play 35 minutes, 38 minutes to start, so it’s going to be a bit shaky early on, probably. But like I said, it’s a journey, it’s a process, and that’s what I’m about.
Wall didn’t get many opportunities to flash the speed that helped make him the fastest goalkeeper in the game for several years. Wall vied for a starting point with Reggie Jackson, came off the bench on his debut and gave the Clippers a glimpse into his death. He died in catch-and-shoot 3 hitting Robert Covington at the top of the switch for 3. The score could have been on the inside.
He hit the wall with a 3-pointer late in the first half for a basket only.
“I could brag [the speed] Wall said when asked about the lack of many opportunities to sprint “on the field.” But I’ve been just trying to run the combos and get used to being in the moment with some guys but I’m just trying to push the pace and keep up with the pace the game…everything will come to me, it’s all easy, I also know I still have the things I need. But I think now for us, she’s just trying to figure out different formations.”
The Clippers hope Wall can help them push the tempo further after they finished 19th in pace last season. Liu said Wall will start the Clippers’ next preliminary game on Sunday.
Leonard said he plans to play in the next pre-season game as well, with five days between tilt periods.
“Aggressively, Kouhi, I thought he was a little tired,” Lowe said. “But he got some of the shots he normally does. But just seeing him out there on the ground makes a big difference for our team.”