LOS ANGELES (AP) – Kawhi Leonard knew he needed to carry the load for the Los Angeles Clippers. He was up for the challenge.
Leonard scored a season-high 31 points and the Clippers rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Washington 102-93 on Saturday night, extending the Wizards’ skid to a season-worst nine games.
“He’s feeling better, feeling good, starting to trust it,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue.
Still on a minutes restriction after missing last season with a torn ACL, Leonard equaled his season high of 31 minutes. He shot 12 of 26, made five of eight free throws and had nine rebounds on a day when Paul George, Ivica Zubac, Reggie Jackson and Norman Powell were sidelined. That left the Clippers without nearly 61 combined points on average.
“Just needed to be more assertive and aggressive the whole game,” Leonard said. “It was a big win for us.”
Luke Kennard added a season-high 20 points off the bench, tying his season high with four three-pointers.
“You don’t want to leave him,” Leonard said. “If you give that to him, he’s going to knock it down.”
Kristaps Porzingis led the Wizards with 19 points. Kyle Kuzma added 17 points and Deni Avdija had 10 rebounds. The Wizards, who were without Bradley Beal, have lost 12 of 13.
Los Angeles fought back in the fourth. Brandon Boston Jr came off the bench for a steal and score, tying it at 78. The Clippers went up 81-78 on Amir Coffey’s layup and Kennard’s free throw after the Wizards’ delay of game technical.
“Just searching for a good lineup to hold it down until Kawhi came back,” Lue said.
Washington ran off seven in a row and the Clippers answered with six straight. Porzingis’ basket drew the Wizards into a tie at 87-all.
Kennard passed to Nicolas Batum for a three-pointer that put the Clippers in front by three.
Then Leonard got going. He scored eight in a row and only missed a free throw that would have capped a three-point play as the Clippers led 98-89 and closed out their fourth win in five games.
“I was able to get to my spots,” Leonard said. “When it’s that time of game you want to be as aggressive as possible.”
The Wizards were held to 18 points in the third and fourth quarters.
“Especially on nights when we struggle to score the ball, defense is where we’re going to hang our hats,” Lue said.
The Clippers were down 15 points in the second quarter, but Leonard took over starting in the third. He scored eight of their first nine points to pull the Clippers into a tie at 59-all.
From there, the Wizards outscored the Clippers 16-13 to lead 75-72 heading into the fourth. Avdija had six points, punctuated by a one-handed slam, and Kuzma and two-way player Jordan Goodwin had five each as Leonard sat down with just over three minutes left.