May 23, 2024

One night after Kawhi Leonard crashed to the court in Dallas, his team’s nine-game winning streak came crashing to an end without him Thursday in Oklahoma City.

With Leonard sidelined by a contusion of his left hip, which he’d suffered in the final minute of the Clippers’ win the previous night, the Clippers’ undefeated month finally saw its first blemish in a 134-115 loss to the Thunder.

Asked about the severity of Leonard’s injury, coach Tyronn Lue said Leonard was “day to day.” The team next plays Saturday in a home matinee against Eastern Conference-leading Boston.

Paul George returned after his one-game absence due to illness and scored 22 points in 29 minutes. James Harden scored 23 points, with nine rebounds, six assists and three turnovers.

Playing their third game in four days, the Clippers (17-11) trailed by 12 only halfway through the opening quarter and as many as 14 early into the second. Though they fared well in limiting most valuable player candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – the guard the Clippers dealt away as part of their trade to acquire Paul George in 2019 – and punished one of the NBA’s worst rebounding teams on the offensive glass, they struggled to contain the Thunder’s lone big man, Chet Holmgren, who scored 13 of his 23 points in the first half.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points but shot 11-for-25 from the field.

The Clippers’ 14-point deficit was gone barely two minutes into the second half after a crossover and step-back three-pointer by Harden. They reclaimed a one-point lead two possessions later on another three-pointer, this one by George.

Taking that first lead had taken the Clippers more than two quarters. It took only two and a half minutes for them to trail again by double-digits, part of a 12-0 run by the Thunder (18-8) that included Holmgren’s alley-oop dunk that he’d thrown to himself, off of the backboard.

It was that play that sent Holmgren’s defender, starting center Ivica Zubac, to the bench in favor of backup center Daniel Theis for his first minutes after the Clippers had spent the first half fielding all-wing reserve lineups to contest Oklahoma City’s bevy of ballhandlers.

The Clippers trailed by 16 with four minutes to play in the third quarter and 17 at the quarter’s end after Oklahoma City scored 45 points — the most allowed by the Clippers in any quarter since Nov. 10.

Upon checking in for the first time off the bench, Clippers guard Russell Westbrook received a standing ovation from Oklahoma City fans who had seen him transform into the league’s most valuable player while with the Thunder. He finished with 15 points and a season-high 13 rebounds, but also five of the team’s 15 turnovers.

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