Kawhi Leonard celebrates new contract by leading Clippers to victory

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 10, 2024: LA Clippers forward Paul George (13) stuffs Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher (25) in the first half at Arena on January 10, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

First, the “Board Man” got paid. Then he and the Clippers got a win.

Hours after All-Star wing Kawhi Leonard signed a three-year contract extension worth $152.3 million on Wednesday, he scored 29 points as the Clippers slowly awoke to outlast the skidding Toronto Raptors, 126-120, at Arena and improve to 24-13.

Leonard’s curving path to the rim with one minute remaining in the fourth quarter ended with a right-handed dunk for a six-point lead. When that was shaved to three, Leonard drove into the lane, drew a second defender and passed to Paul George for a swished three-pointer and a six-point cushion with 36 seconds to play.

George finished with 29 points as well. James Harden scored 14 points with 11 assists while Ivica Zubac had 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Clippers guard Amir Coffey dunks the ball in the first half.
Clippers guard Amir Coffey dunks the ball in the first half. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

The win was the Clippers’ 16th in 19 games since Dec. 1, despite shooting 13 free throws and being outrebounded. Yet they made 15 three-pointers, three more than Toronto, and scored 17 points off of 15 Raptors turnovers, compared to the two points Toronto (15-23) mustered from the Clippers’ seven turnovers.

Playing for the second time in as many nights and without star Pascal Siakam, a subject of persistent trade rumors, because of an injured back, Toronto never wilted, making 54% of its shots as its quick guards repeatedly beat defenders to the paint and down the court, forcing the Clippers to keep pace.

Neither team led by double digits through three quarters, but the Clippers gradually separated themselves in the fourth quarter to lead by 10 with seven minutes to play, then turned to what has become their default closing lineup — starters Leonard, George, Harden and Zubac, plus reserve Norman Powell — to push away the Raptors.

James Harden looks to the ref for a foul call in the first half.
James Harden looks to the ref for a foul call in the first half. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

It didn’t happen in a landslide, but the result was what the Clippers intended — a profitable day for all involved.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.