Add Kawhi Leonard to the elite list of NBA players, who have continued playing at their superstar level despite wearing a facial mask.
A mere five days after needing eight stitches to tend to a mouth laceration when he accidentally took an elbow from teammate Serge Ibaka in Denver on Christmas Day, Leonard returned to the starting lineup as the Clippers hosted the Portland Trail Blazers.
He didn't just return, he dominated and led from the front. Playing 30 minutes, he recorded 28 points (9-17 FGs; 3-5 3Ps; 7-8 FTs), seven assists, three rebounds, and three steals. His plus-minus of +23 was third only to Nicolas Batum (+26) and Paul George (+25).
A sign that he was really back, came very early in the game:
Total eclipse of the basketball. pic.twitter.com/W8HQ9Z0CZe- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) December 31, 2020
"S**t, its hard to breathe in the mask," Leonard said postgame.
"They started calling me leatherface and stuff," he jokingly continued, talking about his teammates giving him a hard time about the mask. "Serge can't talk too much, we got him on the trading block."
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But Leonard wasn't the only one that had it going. The Clippers had six players finish in double figures with Paul George being the biggest contributor with 23 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, and two steals.
Los Angeles shot 58.3% (28-48) from the field and 66.7% (14-21) from beyond the arc in the first half. That led to them holding a 76-57 lead at the half, a deficit the Trail Blazers couldn't make up. The blowout 128-105 win helps the Clippers improve to a 4-1 record - the best in the Western Conference.
For the Trail Blazers, CJ McCollum top-scored with 25 while Damian Lillard, en route to 20 points, recorded only his third career regular-season game of shooting 0-of-8 from 3-point range or worse.
It's unclear as to how much longer Leonard will need to wear his mask but if the performance against the Trail Blazers is a sign of things, don't miss out on watching him in the next few Clippers games.
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