Los Angeles Clippers on Brink of Elimination, Kawhi Leonard to Miss Game 5

Posted on: April 25, 2023, 08:02h. 

Last updated on: April 25, 2023, 12:45h.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard will sit out a third-straight game because of a right knee injury. The #5 Clippers square off against the #4 Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of their opening-round playoff series.

Kawhi Leonard
Phoenix Suns forwards Kevin Durant (35) and Josh Okogie (2) double team Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard in Game 2 at the Footprint Arena. (Image: Getty)

The Clippers are down 3-1 against the Suns and face an elimination game on the road without two of their top scorers. Shooting guard Paul George isn’t in the lineup either because he’s out for the first round with a right knee injury.

It’s a tough situation to be in, with your two main guys out,” said Clippers head coach Ty Lue. “I love our guys in the locker room. I’d go to war with these guys any time. That’s the reason I have confidence, because of the guys we have in the locker room, and we are not going to give in.”

The Clippers expected George could return in the second round. But that might not happen because the Clippers are one more loss away from getting knocked out of the postseason.

The Clippers head into Game 5 on Tuesday night as a +12.5 underdog on the road at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. The Clippers are 2-2 against the spread through four postseason games.

Leonard Out … Again

Leonard missed all of the 2021-22 season while recovering from an ACL injury in the 2021 NBA playoffs. He finally resembled his former self in the second half of the 2022-23 regular season. He bounced back to his old form by averaging 23.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game, shooting 41.6% from 3-point range.

Leonard looked unstoppable in his first two playoff games this season. He averaged 34.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 2.0 steals per game against the Suns. He also shot a scorching 60% from 3-point range. The Clippers stole a victory on the road in Game 1 thanks to an inspiring 38-point performance from Leonard.

Leonard tweaked his knee in Game 1 but attempted to play through the injury, diagnosed as a sprained right knee. He played through the pain in Game 2 and still dropped 31 points in a loss.

Leonard was unable to play in Game 3 when the series shifted to Los Angeles. Fans hoped he would sit out just one game to rest his sore knee. But he missed a second game in a row in Game 4.

“Kawhi’s definitely hurt,” Lue told the LA Times. “Like this is not load management where he’s taking time off. He’s shown in his past that he’s played through injuries in the playoffs. If it’s something that he can’t play through, then it has to be pretty serious.”

Without Leonard or George in the mix, the Clippers leaned on sixth man Norman Powell and point guard Russell Westbrook to pick up the scoring slack. Powell exploded for 42 points in a losing effort in Game 3. Westbrook led all scorers with 37 points in a Game 4 loss.

Suns Win Three in Row, Futures Bump

The Suns were a popular pick to win the Western Conference at +190 odds when the regular season ended, even though they were the #4 seed. You can back them now at +160 odds to win the West as the betting favorite.

When the playoffs began, the Suns were the third-highest favorite on DraftKings’ futures board at +425 odds to win the 2022-23 NBA championship. Their championship odds are the same at +425 with a 3-1 series lead. But they’re now the second overall team on the board.

The Boston Celtics are the betting favorite to win the championship at +210 odds, followed by the Suns and Milwaukee Bucks (+600). The top-seeded Bucks fell behind the #8 Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoffs yet remain the third favorite on the futures board despite trailing the Heat 3-1 in their series.

According to a postseason projection from FiveThirtyEight, the Suns have a 19% chance to reach the NBA Finals, with a 6% chance to win the championship.

The Suns were rusty when the postseason began. The Clippers jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter of Game 1, and the Suns never recovered, losing 115-11.

After falling into an 0-1 hole, the Suns responded with three consecutive wins and seized a 3-1 lead in the series. They won Game 2 by 14 points, squeaked by with a 5-point victory in Game 2, and cruised to a 12-point win in Game 4.

In Game 4, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker combined for 61 points, and both stars scored at least 30 points in that decisive victory. Booker leads the Suns with 34.8 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game. In Durant’s first postseason stint with the Suns, he averages 27.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game.