Home Sports Kawhi Leonard. Paul George. Same Court. Same Time. – The New York...

Kawhi Leonard. Paul George. Same Court. Same Time. – The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — It rained in Los Angeles on Wednesday, one of those rare meteorological events that seem to transfix this city while paralyzing the traffic. At around the same time, the Clippers went through their morning shootaround ahead of their game against the Boston Celtics later that night.

Shootarounds tend to be unremarkable, but this one was as odd and rare as the weather: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were finally on the court together, partaking in an official workout for the first time as teammates. One of the Clippers’ marketing slogans this season is “We Over Me,” but they have seldom been whole. George missed the first 11 of games of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery, then Leonard was sidelined with a left knee contusion when George joined the starting lineup last week.

On Wednesday, though, they overlapped: their first communal shootaround followed by their first game as superfriends. In some ways, it felt like the season was starting all over again.

“I think I know what to expect,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said about an hour and a half before the game began, “but I don’t really know what to expect.”

Rivers wound up getting a bit of everything: a bundle of turnovers, a late-game comeback and a glimpse of his team’s frightening potential.

It was no surprise that the Clippers were uneven in their 107-104 overtime victory: Leonard had missed the previous three games, George is still working himself into playing shape and their teammates are coping with change. But the Celtics took the court at Staples Center tied for the best record in the N.B.A.’s Eastern Conference, and the Clippers still emerged with a win.

“We understand we’re going to have growing pains,” said George, who finished with 25 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. “We’re going to make mistakes. It’s not going to be pretty right now. But whatever the case may be, we’re going to find a way to win.”

Leonard added 17 points and blocked the Celtics’ Kemba Walker at the buzzer to preserve the win, but what stood out most as Leonard and George seized the stage was the play of their supporting cast. Patrick Beverley had 14 points and 16 rebounds. Lou Williams scored 27 points off the bench. The Clippers (10-5) revealed their depth.

“If we trust the pass, the ball will find the open guy,” Rivers said, “and the open guy will make the shot.”

All that depth is a luxury as Leonard and George feel their way through this process. Rivers recalled meeting with his staff after the team’s morning shootaround and reflecting on how strange it all was: When was the last time another tandem had made such a highly anticipated debut without having spent any real time together on the practice court?

“We couldn’t come up with one,” Rivers said.

Of course, Leonard and George were not exactly strangers when they showed up for Wednesday’s game. In coordinating their relocation to Los Angeles over the summer, Leonard only agreed to sign with the Clippers after they had hashed out a deal to acquire George from the Oklahoma City Thunder. And they have been around each other for months.

In the run-up to the season, they appeared together on billboards and in television commercials and in the wildest dreams of the franchise’s championship-starved fans. It was all a reflection of just how much was suddenly at stake for the Clippers, who mortgaged an enormous chunk of their long-term future to win now. It is worth remembering what was required of them to pry George loose from Oklahoma City: a package that included five future first-round draft picks and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, one of their most promising young players.

But the Clippers are living for the moment, and George was quick to provide evidence of his worth in his first three games with the team by averaging 29.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 56.3 percent from the field — all while Leonard nursed his knee injury. After going months without competitive basketball, George made his return look effortless.

But Wednesday was different, a milestone for a franchise that has never been synonymous with success. Before the game, Rivers acknowledged that he was experiencing a smorgasbord of emotions: excitement and nervousness, but also curiosity to see how it would all look. He knew it would take time for Leonard and George to form chemistry and for the team as a whole to adjust to revamped rotations and roles. But come on: It was finally happening.

Sure enough, on the Clippers’ opening possession, Leonard buried a 3-pointer. A few possessions later, he passed out of a trap to George, who made a 3-pointer of his own. It all seemed too good to be true — and it was, because the Clippers spent much of the rest of the game handling the ball as if it had been coated with cooking oil, finishing with 23 turnovers.

“I just thought we were so sloppy in transition,” Rivers said. “We were trying to get the ball to guys instead of trying to score. I mean, there were times when we had direct-line drives, and instead we were looking cross court.”

At the same time, it was clear how much trouble Leonard and George caused defenders when they were on the court together. They drew significant attention, clearing space for the teammates around them. Beverley and Williams were among those who took advantage.

“I came off one pick and roll,” Beverley said, “and I was so open, I didn’t know what to do.”

For his part, George reminded everyone at his news conference that the Clippers are not merely some “two-headed monster.” But now, after a long wait, they are finally whole.

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