‘Stuff is bigger than basketball’: Five takeaways from Clippers’ win over Warriors
The Clippers’ 108-101 road victory against Golden State improved the Clippers to 6-3 but was also “secondary to what is going on in this country,” as forward Marcus Morris said.
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s game.
1. Kawhi Leonard says he is healthy enough to play back-to-backs again.
Wednesday was the first time Leonard had played games on consecutive days since April 4-5, 2017. Between then and now, he’d missed nearly an entire season with a quadriceps injury, been traded and undergone “load management” en route to a title in Toronto, and kept the same strategy last season with the Clippers when the NBA determined that a recurring tendon injury in his left knee made him unable to play on consecutive days.
“The last few years, I was injured and I worked on getting my leg stronger, and it’s been a long time,” Leonard said. “But I was patient and I’m able to play.”
Leonard and the team envisioned playing him in both games of the season’s first back-to-back against Minnesota and Portland last week, a team source said, but that plan was scrapped after Leonard was struck in the face during the Clippers’ game against Denver on Christmas, which led to a two-game absence and some concern over his recovery.
So this week became his first chance to test his endurance. After playing 37 minutes Tuesday in a home loss to San Antonio, he played 34 minutes against the Warriors and “felt good” after scoring 21 points, making seven of his 12 shots, against the Warriors.
“I know he got gassed, especially the first time out, with him and [Paul George], they were spent,” coach Tyronn Lue said.
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard was saddened that no charges will be brought in the Jacob Blake shooting yet hopeful that changes will be made in policing.
During his most recent offseason, he trained “four or five times a week in a row,” Leonard said. “So my body’s prepared for it. It’s just now getting your NBA legs, your in-season legs.”
2. In case it wasn’t obvious, this is a significant change for the Clippers.
After Leonard posted a team-high plus-14 plus/minus Wednesday, the Clippers have outscored opponents this season by a team-best 62 points when Leonard is on the court.
The Clippers have four more back-to-backs remaining in the first half of their schedule. The possibility of having Leonard for all eight of those games instead of half that many gives Lue and the roster more time around one another and a better chance to win.
“He said he felt great,” Lue said.
3. Lue said kneeling for the national anthem, a choice made jointly with the Warriors, was “powerful.” Some players didn’t think that demonstration went far enough.
If this had been any other day, Morris would have been thrilled to step on the court. The 6-foot-8 forward, who re-signed for four years and $64 million as a free agent, was set to make his season debut after a sore knee cost him eight games. Instead, he watched coverage of a mob incited by President Trump storm the U.S. Capitol and didn’t feel right playing.
“I think it happened so fast that it was one of those things that we just made a decision as a whole to take a knee,” Morris said. “But my personal opinion [is] that wasn’t enough. You know, I don’t think we should have played.”
The idea wasn’t something seriously considered, Morris said, with players preparing as though the game would be played.
“But if it was my decision, I wouldn’t have any games,” he said. “Stuff is bigger than basketball, man. This is secondary to what is going on in this country. Just out of respect I thought we shouldn’t have played.”
Clippers teammate Paul George acknowledged the “fine line” the league and its teams tried to walk between demonstrating while also providing escapism entertainment. But he, too, “would have been all for the league just shutting down,” he said.
Not everyone agreed.
“There’s always this cry on ‘Cancel the NBA game. Protest the game. Don’t play,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “But if we’re going to protest these games and not play, everyone in America has to be on the same [wavelength]. Oh, the NBA canceled the game and didn’t play but everyone else just goes to work? I mean that’s not the answer in my opinion. The NBA is doing what the NBA can. We speak up, we do all the things everyone has been doing. But at some point we need lawmakers to change laws.”
4. Lue thought about the violence at the U.S. Capitol at some points during Wednesday’s game.
Some players noted they were able to keep their emotions from interfering with their performance inside Chase Center. Once the game ended, everyone offered raw reflections on what they’d seen play out on social media and television.
“To be honest, it’s just hard to really put into words,” Morris said. “Just the fact that the direction that this country is going in and the things that are happening that obviously have never before seen and just being an African American, I know that, quite frankly, if that were people of color, that would have played out a lot differently. It’s just unfortunate the state that we are in in this country.”
Leonard watched the events unfold from the team’s hotel.
“It was crazy that you got that going on,” Leonard said. “You just see the privilege, the privilege in America. It’s sad to see, because if any of us was out there, I think we would’ve been tear-gassed, maced, probably gunshots, you know?”
Clippers, Golden State Warriors, and other NBA players react to Wednesday’s protesting events at the U.S. Capitol.
Said Green: “Stop calling them people protesters. They’re terrorists. Protests are what you saw when we saw 500 National Guard members standing on those same steps when there were Black and brown people saying, ‘We want to be treated equally.’ That’s a protest. Storming into a building and busting out windows and carrying out podiums, that’s not a protest. That’s a terrorist attack.”
5. Back to basketball: Morris suggested the team enjoyed better chemistry than last season.
Asked how this roster felt or played differently than last season, Morris said new additions had fit seamlessly into everything the team wanted to do, and not only in the strictest on-court sense.
“I like the way they jell.Everybody is taking accountability of their actions on the court, and we being able to talk it out with no backlash,” Morris said. “I think we are just playing free. Ty Lue and the rest of the coaching staff are doing an amazing job, so it is exciting, everybody is having a good time.”
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