Leonard logged 40 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back and had 22 points, 8 rebounds,7 assists and 4 steals to lift the Clippers to an inspired 109-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center on Monday.
Leonard scored nine points, grabbed three rebounds and had two steals in the final 9:15, including scoring on a putback while being fouled to convert a three-point play that pushed the Clippers’ lead to seven with 2:08 remaining.
“Kawhi was great tonight with huge rebounds down the stretch and just bringing us home,” said Clippers coach Ty Lue, whose team was without injured starters Patrick Beverley (knee) and Serge Ibaka (back).
“He wasn’t gonna let us lose this game tonight.”
After the Clippers were routed 135-115 on Sunday night in New Orleans, Leonard said his team’s inconsistency was “very concerning.” The Clippers (26-15) had lost five of their previous seven games entering Dallas.
“Just, physically tired but mentally I wanted to win the game,” Leonard said of how he felt down the stretch. “My heart was into the game. That is what you got to push through. You are going to have these moments down the road where you feel like your juice is gone but you just got to keep fighting. And my teammates did a great job of competing as well.”
Lue was furious following the loss to the Pelicans and called out the team’s defensive efforts. The coach also made a lineup change, inserting Marcus Morris Sr. into the starting five and bringing Nic Batum off the bench.
Lue said he had been contemplating the move for a while and wanted to jumpstart Morris, who scored seven of his 14 points in the first quarter. Batum, whom Lue praised for his play all season long, buried four 3-pointers to finish with 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
Lue said Morris will remain his starting power forward moving forward.
“I don’t think it’s a struggle,” Morris said of the team’s recent up-and-down play. “Everything that’s happened has been that we’re beating ourselves. These teams that are beating us aren’t better than us, I can tell you that straightforward.
“We’re beating ourselves, we’re going to continue to get better… we got to play our style of basketball. And some games, we gonna lose. Some games, you know teams go through tough patches, man, that’s what makes championship teams. Nobody’s worried about that.”
The Clippers improved to 7-0 in the second game of a back-to-back this season and are the only team without a loss in that second game this season.
Leonard, who has tried to be lead the Clippers this season more vocally and through action, has played in four back-to-backs this season after having not played in a back-to-back since April 2017.
“Kawhi just showing his leadership of just wanting to play back-to-backs, he’s healthy,” Lue said. “That’s big for us. … Back-to-backs test your manhood, test who you are and test your character. And I thought tonight we responded very well.”
While Leonard liked what he saw from his team in Dallas, the All-Star said the team has to maintain a consistent mentality and effort every game like championship teams do.
“He didn’t have to say anything,” said center Ivica Zubac, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds in starting for Ibaka. “We all know we gotta do much better, that we can do so much better. That level of play is not acceptable. The way that we’ve been playing for the last 10 games. When your star player, who brings it every night says that, you gotta start from yourself. You gotta bring it to. If your star player brings it every night, then you can’t be the one who is not bringing it.”