LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Clippers don’t have injured Kawhi Leonard on the court. He’s everywhere else, though.
In the halftime locker room, texting, on the phone, watching from above the floor, all the while analyzing and suggesting ways for his team to get past the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
Leonard watched with his family from a Staples Center suite Thursday night, when Paul George had 27 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists in a game-high 43 minutes of the Clippers’ 106-92 victory. It cut their series deficit to 2-1.
Leonard met up with his teammates at halftime, when they trailed by two.
“He was just telling me rotations, what to look for, what’s open, what’s available,” George said. “It gave me a good game plan going into the second half for what to look for.”
Clearly, it worked. The Clippers outscored the Suns 60-42 in the second half.
Leonard hasn’t played since Game 4 of the second round against Utah because of a right knee sprain. The All-Star joined the coaches’ huddle in Game 6, when the Clippers closed out the Jazz and advanced to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
Coach Tyronn Lue said Leonard won’t play in Game 4 on Saturday night. The Suns are 1-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
“He’s very much a part of this team without being able to play right now,” George said. “It’s just great to have his mind and his presence part of this game, part of this team.”
Leonard’s low-key approach is in direct contrast to the fiery Patrick Beverley (Devin Booker’s nose got broken when they head-butted in Game 2). Beverley went up to each of his teammates at halftime Thursday, telling them what they needed to do. Marcus Morris, Rajon Rondo and little-used DeMarcus Cousins are the other veterans who have their say, too.
“It’s an amazing locker room we have,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “Everybody tried to collectively lead from their position, from their role, and everybody has pure intent. It doesn’t matter who is on who, who is saying what. We know where it comes from, from the heart and at the end of the day we want to win.”