CHARLOTTE — Returning to the court after a two-week injury stint, Kawhi Leonard demonstrated his five-time NBA All-Star credentials on Monday night in the Spectrum Center.
In a game of back-and-forth runs, the Los Angeles Clippers (14-11) slid by the Charlotte Hornets (7-17) for a 119-117 win thanks to Leonard’s tie-breaking 18-foot fadeaway shot with 1.4 seconds left.
Charlotte has now lost nine consecutive games against the Clippers.
Kelly Oubre Jr. (28 points, seven rebounds), Terry Rozier (22 points, eight assists) and PJ Washington (26 points) provided the bulk of the Hornets’ offense with LaMelo Ball (ankle), Gordon Hayward (shoulder) and Dennis Smith Jr. (ankle) still sidelined with injuries.
Rookie center Mark Williams also remains day-to-day with an ankle injury.
“That was an incredible effort,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We just played a team who will be favored to go deep into the playoffs in the west without four or five of our top eight guys. If we get a rebound, we win the game.
“The effort’s been what’s keeping us in games. Our effort has been terrific. Sometimes we don’t look good because we struggle to score, but nobody can question how hard these guys are playing. That’s crazy. The effort is a strength right now. What we have to do is get more physical.”
In a third quarter in which everything clicked, Charlotte had a 24-6 run to turn a halftime deficit into a six-point lead. The fourth quarter was a different story as L.A. went on a 20-6 run of its own to put Leonard in position to exhibit his heroics.
“The beginning of the fourth was a problem, but they’re going to make a run,” Clifford said. “They’re going to come back with their guys, so the game’s going to get close. The biggest difference in the game is rebounding. That’s it. Physicality, rebounding, finishing possessions, that’s it.”
Paul George, returning from a seven-game injury stint, led the Clippers with 19 points and seven assists, while Leonard posted 16 points and six rebounds; John Wall had a productive night off the bench with 12 points and 12 assists.
Both squads shot 48% from the field, although L.A. shot slightly better than Charlotte from behind the arc.
Charlotte will next travel to Brooklyn (13-12) for a matchup on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.