Kawhi Leonard reacts to playing his first game in 15 months
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Kawhi Leonard admitted he missed basketball and said he was just happy to be able to play the game again. On Monday night, Leonard played his first game since the 2021 NBA playoffs. Leonard, who tore his ACL during the Los Angeles Clippers' playoff run in 2021, missed the entire last season.
This week, Leonard made his long-awaited return by suiting up in a preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers. In his first game back, Leonard went 3-of-8 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line. In the end, Leonard finished with 11 points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals as the Clippers beat the Trail Blazers 102-97.
"It was great," Leonard said of playing again "Just being able to put all that hard work that I did throughout the, 14, 16 months, just able to put it to test and playing against NBA talent, it was good. Just being out there with the guys and talking, I missed it.
It was a great experience for me."
Leonard on if he felt butterflies in his first game back
Leonard was out for 15 months before suiting up on Monday night. "It was funny because PG [Paul George] asked me if I had the bubbles before the game, like [in] the stomach," Leonard said.
"I am like, nah. There might be a little [chicken] wing in there floating around. [But] I felt the same way as if I approached any other game today." In his first game back, Leonard played 16 minutes. "The body feels good," Leonard said.
"Obviously, I am not going to be playing 35 minutes, 38 minutes to start, so it is going to be a little shaky early, probably. But like I said, it is a journey, it's a process, and that is what I am about." Leonard spent 16 minutes on the floor, which was expected for his first game back.
The Clippers plan to slowly increase Leonard's minutes and eventually get him to his usual playing time. "Offensively, Kawhi, I thought he got a little tired," Clippers head coach Ty Lue said. "But he got some shots he normally makes.
But just seeing him out there on the floor just makes a big difference for our team." The Clippers were hampered by injuries last season. Now with Leonard and Paul George healthy, they are aiming for the title this season.