Kawhi Leonard’s right knee is now a major concern for the Los Angeles Clippers.
The All-NBA forward was ruled out of Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals on Wednesday with what the Clippers are calling a sprain. A person with knowledge of the matter said Leonard will need more testing and evaluation, raising questions about his availability going forward.
The structural integrity of Leonard’s knee has yet to be fully determined, the person said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team has not offered any specific diagnosis other than sprain. A sprain, by definition, is a ligament injury, though the Clippers have not said which of the four knee ligaments is the cause for concern.
“There is no timetable for his return,” the Clippers said.
After Wednesday’s game in Salt Lake City, the series resumes with Game 6 on Friday in Los Angeles. Game 7, if necessary, is back in Salt Lake City on Sunday.
Even in the short term, it is a massive blow for the Clippers — who split the first four games of their series with the top-seeded Jazz and are trying to reach the West finals for the first time in franchise history.
Leonard is a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and is averaging 30.4 points on 57% shooting in the playoffs.
The Clippers were 11-9 without Leonard during the regular season. They’re 6-1 so far in the playoffs when he scores at least 28 points, 0-4 otherwise.
“I don’t care about the Western Conference Finals,” Leonard said after Game 4 of the series against the Jazz. “I’m trying to win a championship. I mean, obviously that’s the next step, but I’m not even looking at that.”
Leonard’s injury appeared to occur with about 5:20 left in Game 4 of the series against Utah on Monday night, when he was fouled on a drive by Utah’s Bojan Bogdanovic. Leonard was dribbling into the lane when he was bumped, and his right knee appeared to buckle slightly. He grimaced in some discomfort, missed the two free throws that were awarded following the foul, but remained in the game for 45 more seconds.
He checked out with 4:35 remaining and did not return; the Clippers led by 16 points when he checked out and the lead remained in double figures the rest of the way.
If the Clippers-Jazz series ends Friday, Game 1 of the Western Conference finals between the LA-Utah winner and Phoenix will be Sunday. The Suns are unsure on the status of point guard Chris Paul, who has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols related to the coronavirus.