Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers are one of the NBA’s most talented teams. They had something to prove coming into this year after their famous 3-1 semifinal collapse in the NBA bubble. 10 games into the season, the Clippers still show signs that they haven’t learned their lesson.
Finishing games has been the glaring issue for the Clippers in the Kawhi/Paul George era. That issue was evident again, as Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors came back to beat them Friday night. Leonard knows that this flaw will prevent them from winning a championship, providing a solution to the Clippers’ problems the only way he can.
The Clippers collapse against the Warriors
LA was in a position to exercise their dominance against the Warriors. They took it to them the first three quarters in the game. Golden State trailed 85-63 late in the third quarter, so everything points to the Clippers getting a resounding win. Then came LA’s trademark late-game collapse.
The Clipper relinquished a 22-point lead in the game’s final 15 minutes, losing the game 115-105. Golden State’s offense was scorching hot, outscoring LA 52-18 from late in the third until about two mins left in the fourth. Curry led the comeback effort, dropping 19 of his 38 points in the third. Give credit to Golden State for the comeback effort, but LA’s offense didn’t stay aggressive down the stretch.
Turnovers played a big part in the Clippers’ meltdown. They had 11 turnovers from when they had their 22-point lead. The offense lacked rhythm down toward the game’s end, the polar opposite to how the Warriors’ offense looked in the second half. This recent collapse is another reminder of the Clippers’ inability to finish games when they’re up big.
Including Friday night, this is the eighth time the Clippers lost a game after trailing by 15 or more per ESPN. That is the most of any team dating back to last season. Championship teams know how to finish games, and LA has yet to prove that they can. Being a two-time Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard understands this needs to change.
Kawhi Leonard says Clippers need to change
Seeing the Clippers give up another sizeable lead is reminiscent of their performance against the Nuggets in the bubble. Those aren’t the kind of thoughts Leonards wants surrounding this year’s team. The Klaw is a simple man, and he provided a concise and straightforward solution to all of the Clippers’ problems.
“We just have to change, pretty much. We’ve got to change it. We’ve got to get better,” said Leonard per ESPN. He cited their defensive effort as a place for improvement down the stretch of games. “ Our third quarter was terrible as far as defense,” Leonard said. “Them able to get easy looks, coming down just laying up the ball with no one there,” Leonard said. He wasn’t the only one to say that things need to be different moving forward for LA.
“We got to be better. All of us included. This was a team loss, more than anything…”Because fact of the matter is, we have to be a better closing-out team,” George said. When asked what he thinks is needed to fix the Clippers’ failure to close games, George said, “We just gotta dig deep.”
The loss is inexcusable for a team of the Clippers’ caliber. Two star players and a 20+ point lead in the second half should be a win in any circumstance. However, there was something good that did come out of LA’s recent choke job.
The Clippers should be encouraged by Kawhi Leonard’s vocal leadership
One of the things that negatively impacted Los Angeles last year was the team’s lack of leadership. There was no clear leader, someone who vocally demanded more from the team on a consistent basis. That seems to have changed this season with how Leonard and George commented on the Clippers’ need for improvement.
Leonard seems committed to giving the Clippers all he’s got this season. This past week he played in his first back-to-back game since he was with the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard is notorious for his load management, which didn’t sell well with some Clipper teammates in the past. His desire to play in back-to-backs and his demand for change after Friday’s game shows that the Klaw is embracing his leadership role.
It’s early in the NBA season, but Kawhi Leonard is showing more outward and vocal leadership this year in LA than he has his whole career. That was the one thing people could criticize him for, but he is showing the necessary improvement. After another let down in the second half, Leonard’s actions must now match his words.
All stats courtesy of ESPN