After being managed a night earlier against the Milwaukee Bucks, Kawhi Leonard hit the ground running on return, leading the Los Angeles Clippers to a win over expected playoff rival, the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Clippers had to come from behind to claim the win, which moved them to 6-3 on the season and into the West's fourth seed.
It was a particulalry special win for Clippers coach, Doc Rivers, who notched win No. 900 with the victory, making him just the 13th head coach in NBA history to reach the mark.
"The 900 is because of all ya'll."- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) November 8, 2019
The team celebrates @docrivers' milestone victory. pic.twitter.com/1zboTjkfjj
Clutch Kawhi leads rally in fourth
Afer watching last season's playoffs, we hardly need any reminder of Kawhi Leonard's ability to come up big in the clutch, though the Blazers got an unwanted reminder at Staples Center in this one.
18 of Leonard's 27 points came in the fourth quarter, after the Clippers had surrendered a 47-40 lead at the half, to fall behind 76-70 after three.
He scored or assisted on 14 of the Clippers last 19 points and effectively closed this one out himself. Leonard leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring, now averaging 13.5 points in six final periods, including back-to-back 18 points outbursts.
Kawhi's 4th quarter-scoring this season:- Paolo Uggetti (@PaoloUggetti) November 8, 2019
Don't forget, this squad still has Paul George to return.
No matter what the role, Lou Williams just gets buckets
Whether he is in the starting lineup or coming off the bench, Lou Williams just gets buckets.
Williams slid into the starting five against Milwaukee 24 hours earlier, replacing Leonard and subsequently dropping 34 points. Tonight, with Leonard back in the lineup, usual practice was resumed, as the dynamic guard moved back to his role as sixth man, but the results remained the same.
LOU WILLIAMS FROM DOWNTOWN!@LAClippers up by 4 with 31.7 remaining on TNT. pic.twitter.com/yPwHhURhcU- NBA (@NBA) November 8, 2019
Williams poured in 26 points on 16 shots, including the decisive blow, a triple with just 31.7 seconds left to extend the Clippers lead to four, effectively icing the game.
Leonard and Paul George are the MVP caliber players on this Clippers team, but never, ever, discount the importance of the league's best offensive weapon off the bench.
Ivica Zubac continues solid play as a Clipper
Ivica Zubac appeared in 114 games for the Los Angeles Lakers, starting in just 23 of those, and averaging just 13.5 minutes of court time a game. Ever since Zubac swapped between franchises in LA, he has become an integral part of the Clippers rotation.
Prior to the game against Portland, Zubac had started in 32 of his 34 games as a Clipper, averaging 8.9 points and 6.0 rebounds, providing a big body in the paint and a valuable finisher close to the basket.
Matched up against new Blazer, Hassan Whiteside, Zubac was able to assert his influence in the first half, posting 11 points and nine rebounds through two quarters. Combining with Montrezl Harrell to man the middle, Zubac would continue his strong play in the second half, finishing with an impressive line up 15 points and 13 rebounds in just 19:57 of court time.
Blazers star duo misfires
Building a solid rotation behind Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum has always been the blueprint for Terry Stotts in Portland, though, when it's all said and done, the franchise's success rests on the shoulders of the star guard duo.
Against the Clippers, the All-Star pair failed to fire, combining to shoot 18-for-46 from the field and just 4-for-16 from the three-point line.
The Blazers have now slipped to 3-5 on the season and sit 10th in the Western Conference.
OKAY DAME pic.twitter.com/88iJIdRmgR- Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) November 8, 2019
From last years playoff roster, the Blazers have lost Mo Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Enes Kanter to name just a few, and now must find more contributors and a relatively new roster to compliment the 51.8 points per game Lillard and McCollum are contributing.
In a brutally competitive Western Conference, you don't want to slip too far behind the pack, even if it is still early November.