LOS ANGELES (AP)Kawhi Leonard knew he needed to carry the load for the Los Angeles Clippers. He was up for the challenge.
Leonard scored a season-high 31 points and the Clippers rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Washington 102-93 on Saturday, extending the Wizards’ skid to a season-worst nine games.
”He’s feeling better, feeling good, starting to trust it,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue.
Still on a minutes restriction after missing last season with a torn ACL, Leonard equaled his season high of 31 minutes. He shot 12 of 26, made 5 of 8 free throws and had nine rebounds on a day when Paul George, Ivica Zubac, Reggie Jackson and Norman Powell were sidelined. That left the Clippers without nearly 61 combined points on average.
”Just needed to be more assertive and aggressive the whole game,” Leonard said. ”It was a big win for us.”
Luke Kennard added a season-high 20 points off the bench, tying his season high with four 3-pointers.
”You don’t want to leave him,” Leonard said. ”If you give that to him, he’s going to knock it down.”
Kristaps Porzingis led the Wizards with 19 points. Kyle Kuzma added 17 points and Deni Avdija had 10 rebounds. The Wizards, who were without Bradley Beal, have lost 12 of 13.
Los Angeles fought back in the fourth. Brandon Boston Jr. came off the bench for a steal and score, tying it at 78. The Clippers went up 81-78 on Amir Coffey’s layup and Kennard’s free throw after the Wizards’ delay of game technical.
”Just searching for a good lineup to hold it down until Kawhi came back,” Lue said.
Washington ran off seven in a row and the Clippers answered with six straight. Porzingis’ basket drew the Wizards into a tie at 87-all.
Kennard passed to Nicolas Batum for a 3-pointer that put the Clippers in front by three.
Then Leonard got going. He scored eight in a row and only missed a free throw that would have capped a three-point play as the Clippers led 98-89 and closed out their fourth win in five games.
”I was able to get to my spots,” Leonard said. ”When it’s that time of game you want to be as aggressive as possible.”
The Wizards were held to 18 points in the third and fourth quarters.
”Especially on nights when we struggle to score the ball, defense is where we’re going to hang our hats,” Lue said.
The Clippers were down 15 points in the second quarter, but Leonard took over starting in the third. He scored eight of their first nine points to pull the Clippers into a tie at 59-all.
From there, the Wizards outscored the Clippers 16-13 to lead 75-72 heading into the fourth. Avdija had six points, punctuated by a one-handed slam, and Kuzma and two-way player Jordan Goodwin had five each as Leonard sat down with 3 1/2 minutes left.
Wizards: Beal (right hamstring strain) sat out his sixth straight game. … Rui Hachimura (right ankle soreness) missed his 14th game in a row. Although he still has discomfort, Hachimura has responded well to recent 3-on-3 play.
Clippers: George has a sore left knee, Zubac has a left knee contusion, Jackson has left Achilles inflammation and Powell has a left groin strain. … The teams played a week ago and the Clippers won by 10 points on the road.
Clippers guard John Wall hit a 3-pointer in the game’s opening moments against his former team that pushed him over 12,000 career points. He’s one of nine active players with at least 12,000 points, 5,500 assists and 1,000 steals. He finished with nine points, six assists and three rebounds.
Wizards: Stay in Los Angeles to visit the Lakers on Sunday.
Clippers: Host Charlotte on Wednesday to end a five-game homestand.
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