The Los Angeles Clippers followed up their win over the Lakers on opening night with another strong effort against a Western Conference contender on Christmas Day.
But they lost Kawhi Leonard along the way.
They held on for the win after losing Leonard, who was left bloodied and laying on the court after teammate Serge Ibaka inadvertently elbowed him in the teeth amid a fight for a loose ball late in the fourth quarter.
(Warning: The footage below contains blood)
Kawhi Leonard bleeding on the court after taking a shot to the jaw 😬 pic.twitter.com/mgb1jPtQx7
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) December 26, 2020
Leonard was able to stand up and walk to the locker room, but was quickly ruled out for the rest of the game.
Head coach Tyronn Lue was optimistic after the game that Leonard wasn’t seriously injured as the Clippers medical staff continued to evaluate their superstar.
“He got up and walked off the floor, so he's gonna be good,” Lue told reporters.
The Clippers later announced that Leonard needed eight stitches to close a mouth laceration.
Clippers fend off late Nuggets rally
Los Angeles took a 72-55 into halftime and thwarted Denver efforts in the second half to make this one close. The Nuggets threatened a comeback with an 11-0 run early in the fourth quarter. But Leonard staved off the rally with a pair of mid-range jumpers to thwart the run.
It was a performance Clippers fans would have certainly preferred to see in any of Games 5, 6 or 7 of September’s crushing loss to the Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.
But with convincing wins over their top conference rivals to start the season, the Clippers faithful will have to settle for the hottest start in the West of the new NBA season while hoping that Leonard’s injury looked worse than it is.
Before his injury, Leonard was leading the Clippers effort alongside Paul George. He finished with 21 points, seven assists, four rebounds and four steals while hitting 8-of-14 shots from the field. Several of those shots were of the underrated mid-range variety late in the game that were needed to keep the Clippers in control.
George, meanwhile, added 23 points and nine assists while hitting 5-of-9 3-point attempts.
Slow start for Nuggets
The loss dropped the Nuggets to 0-2 following Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings. The good news for Denver is that Jamal Murray found his shooting stroke late after struggling for much of the game on top of a 1-for-9 effort against Sacramento.
Murray finished with 23 points and five rebounds while hitting 9-of-20 shots from the field. Nikola Jokic led the Denver effort with 24 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.
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