The Clippers ruled out both of their franchise stars on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s contest at Phoenix. The Suns lead the Clippers 3-1 and can clinch the Western Conference first-round series with one more win.
Leonard has not played since Game 2 because of a right knee sprain that he suffered in Game 1. Leonard played through it in Game 2, but the injury worsened, and it will keep him out for a third straight game.
Clippers coach Ty Lue said Leonard received treatment and did not practice on Monday. Lue made it clear, for anyone who has criticized Leonard for load management or perhaps doubts this current injury, that his star forward is injured.
“He’s definitely hurt,” Lue said of Leonard, who averaged 34.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists in the first two games of the series. “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.
“We’re not talking about he’s sitting out because of load management or he’s tired or nothing like that. It’s an actual thing. What the outside is saying, who cares.”
George has been out since March 21 with a right knee sprain. He has been working out on the court and could be seen going harder on his moves and drives than he did the week before when the media was allowed to watch practice on Monday. A potential return for George, though, had been considered unlikely since the start of the series.
Without Leonard and George, the Clippers will rely on Russell Westbrook and Norman Powell to shoulder the scoring load again. Westbrook has scored 30 points or more in the past two losses for the Clippers.
Lue has tried playing an ultra-small lineup of all guards at times in an effort to try to score and keep pace with the Suns’ star trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Lue said he still has some unseen wrinkles left in his playbook as the Clippers face elimination.
“It’s a tough situation to be in, with your two main guys out,” Lue said. “But 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. We just [got to] clean up a few things, like we’re right there.”
“We have no choice,” Lue said when asked about emptying the tank in Game 5. “It’s either win or go home. We’ve just got to bring everything. A lot of different things, a lot of different adjustments, just try to keep them off balance, and go from there.”
Clippers rule out Kawhi Leonard (knee) for Game 5 vs. Suns