Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard to remain out for Game 4 vs. Suns

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — The LA Clippers won’t have star forward Kawhi Leonard for a second straight game because of a right knee sprain.

The team ruled Leonard out for Saturday’s Game 4 against the Phoenix Suns at Arena. All-Star forward Paul George also remains out with a right knee sprain. The Suns lead the best-of-seven series 2-1.

Leonard’s injury is considered day-to-day by the team, but the Clippers had just one day between Thursday night’s 129-124 loss in Game 3 and Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. PT tip for Game 4.

“It’s [an] early game, but I feel like we [are] really ready though,” guard Bones Hyland said on Thursday. “We felt like we could’ve beat them [in Game 3]. We beat ourselves. So I feel like we got that firepower in us right now that we can come back tomorrow, really beat them.”

Clippers coach Ty Lue said he did not learn Leonard would miss Game 3 until before that morning’s shootaround. Without Leonard, Norman Powell scored 42 points and Russell Westbrook had 30 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds and three steals.

But the Clippers could not stop Devin Booker, who had 45 points. They also could not keep the Suns from going to the free throw line, as Phoenix shot 46 free throws compared with the Clippers’ 25 attempts.

Heading into Game 4, Lue was asked if he is worried the Clippers might feel as if they’ve already thrown their best punch without Leonard and that it wasn’t enough.

“No, I don’t worry about that,” Lue said. “I mean I hope Devin Booker thinks that — gave us 45, give us his best shot and they won by five. So just being ready to go tomorrow.”

Leonard aggravated his right knee sprain in Game 1 but played through it in Game 2. President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said Leonard’s injury symptoms worsened after Game 2. The injury is not related to Leonard’s torn right ACL that kept him out of the entire 2021-22 season.

Leonard averaged 34.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.0 steals while shooting 54.5% from the field in the first two games of this series.

With Game 5 scheduled for Tuesday, Leonard would have a week of recovery before seeing if he can play when the series returns to Phoenix.

With his two stars out, Lue had to get creative in Game 3, even going to a small lineup of Hyland, Eric Gordon, Westbrook, Powell and Terance Mann for a long stretch in the fourth quarter.

“I go to anything,” Lue said of the lineup. “I mean, just got to find something that works. If something’s not working, you got to be able to do different things, and so just something to try to change the game, and so that’s what we did.”

Lue said the Clippers need to bring that same effort and energy that they did to start Game 3 despite not having Leonard and clean up things like fouling and turnovers.

“Just be a little smarter,” Lue said. “I think the biggest thing is taking care of the basketball, continue to attack the paint, attack these guys and then our physicality. I know they shot 46 free throws, but we got to be physical with this team. We can’t let them roam free and we have done a good job with that, just being smarter.

“Not fouling 40 feet away from the basket in the bonus, things like that. Then we just got to cut down some of our game plan mistakes, which I know we’ll do better with tomorrow.”

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