Clippers glad to have Kawhi Leonard back, but will he play more in Game 3?

Los Angeles, CA, Tuesday, April 23, 2024 - LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) moves.
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard drives past Dallas guard Kyrie Irving during the Clippers' loss in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Mavericks on Tuesday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Kawhi Leonard slowly walked onto the American Airlines Center court past the media and over towards where Paul George was talking to Clippers coach Tyronn Lue. Leonard tapped Lue on the hand and kept walking until he disappeared out of sight.

A few minutes later, Leonard reappeared, sitting in a chair to put on his sneakers to get ready for practice. It was not going to be a contact practice, but it was another step towards helping Leonard get his game back in gear.

Lue said Leonard didn’t have any issues with his knee after playing 34:55 in Game 2 of the Western Conference playoffs Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks.

Read more: Clippers need a better version of Kawhi Leonard to win Game 3

It was the first time Leonard had played in almost three weeks. He had missed the last eight regular-season games and the first playoff game with inflammation in his right knee.

Other than being rusty, which was to be expected considering Leonard had not played since March 31, Leonard was fine physically.

So now, the question is whether Lue can increase Leonard’s minutes for Game 3 of the best-of-seven series that is tied at 1-1 and has tilted the home-court advantage toward the Mavericks.

“Not sure yet,” Lue said Thursday before the team listed Leonard as questionable for Game 3. “That’s something we got to talk about with medical. I’m not sure if the minutes will go up but he feels good.”

Lue paused for a second and smiled.

“Just hoping we can get him out there for 46 minutes, like those other guys,” Lue joked, referring to how Dallas coach Jason Kidd and Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau are playing their stars heavy minutes in the playoffs.

Leonard struggled to find a groove in Game 2, going seven for 17 from the field and missing all five of his three-pointers.

After the game, Leonard had talked about finding his rhythm.

Lue was asked how that can happen.

“Not necessarily shots. I think more so timing,” Lue said. “Timing of when he’s getting there. How he’s getting there. I think understanding the rhythm of the offense and getting that flow back. I don’t think it necessarily means more shots. I just think it means like your timing, when he’s getting to his spots, how he’s getting to his spots and things like that.”

Read more: Hernández: Despite Game 2 loss, Clippers clearly need Kawhi Leonard

Leonard saw some progress in the second half, especially in the third quarter when he was four for seven from the field for eight points.

That led to Leonard going five for 11 from the field in the second half for 11 points.

“I thought in the first half his lift wasn’t as good,” Lue said. “I thought in the second half, I think he saw (shots go in and) he felt good and he can do it. I thought it was a lot better….I just think mentally he got over the hurdle, ‘OK, I feel good. I can do this.’ I think you saw that in the third quarter. So, hopefully he can continue that to start the game tomorrow.”

Leonard’s teammates had to make some adjustments as well with him back on the court.

He’s the Clippers’ best player and demanded a lot of attention from Dallas’ defense.

Leonard led the Clippers in scoring (23.7) and was second in rebounds (6.1) during the regular season. He shot 52.5 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three-point range.

“I mean, I’ve been here for five years so I would say we’re pretty familiar with his game and what he wants to do,” Clippers center Ivica Zubac said. “But at the same time he missed, whatever, 20-25 days and obviously there’s going to be some adjustments even from him physically conditioning-wise and everything. And our game is going to be a little bit different with a player of that good coming back. You got to adjust to him too. So, we knew it was going to be a little bit of adjustment, but we got a lot of reps in together and we know how we want to play and I’m sure tomorrow we’ll be better.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.