After losing Game 4 at Staples Center, the LA Clippers are now trailing 3-1 in the 2021 Western Conference Finals and fans can't help but inquire about their superstar Kawhi Leonard. Paul George and co. managed to win Game 3 despite the return of Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul. It got everyone wondering if Leonard was healthy, then the LA Clippers could have been favorites to win the series.
The LA Clippers are now on the brink of elimination and it doesn't seem like Kawhi Leonard is coming back anytime soon. He suffered a gruesome injury to his knee and it was so bad that the team feared it might be an ACL tear or something worse than it looks.
How severe is Kawhi Leonard's injury?
Kawhi Leonard was sprinting up the floor in transition when he suddenly left the ball and went to the sidelines in Game 4 against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semifinals. He didn't land awkwardly after a dunk or wasn't hard-fouled on a shot attempt but rather had a slight bump with Joe Ingles and immediately grabbed his right leg in pain. He left the court limping and has been ruled out ever since.
As you know, the LA Clippers managed to win the Jazz series despite Kawhi Leonard's absence. However, competition has turned up a notch in the Western Conference Semifinals and they severely miss him.
Kendrick Perkins, a 2008 NBA Champion with the Celtics and now an NBA analyst on ESPN, went through an ACL tear himself. He appeared on the popular show "The Jump". He spoke about Kawhi Leonard's injury, saying,
"I don't think Kawhi Leonard comes back this postseason. Anything dealing with the knee, ACL, anything around there...it's just something you can't play with. If I'm Kawhi, I'm going to sit out because coming back, you're not going to be at full strength anyway and you have a chance of possibly hurting yourself even more..."
Although there are no confirmed reports on whether Kawhi Leonard's right ankle sprain is an ACL tear, it is safe to say he won't be returning to play anytime soon. Kawhi Leonard is one of the few players who really takes care of his body. He took himself out in Game 4 against the Jazz and sat out the final few minutes of the fourth quarter even though the game was close and teetering. Kawhi Leonard manages the load, misses games due to slight injuries and pain. If there is even a slight chance of a major injury or tear, we can assume he won't lace up for Game 5 at Phoenix.
When is Kawhi expected to be back and what does his injury mean for the LA Clippers?
As mentioned earlier, he isn't expected to be back anytime soon. If the LA Clippers lose Game 5, they'll be eliminated anyway, so his return is probably scheduled for next season. Even if they manage to win Game 5 and force a Game 6 back home, we shouldn't be too keen on seeing Kawhi Leonard lace-up. It does look like the LA Clippers are going to manage without him until the end of their postseason.
Kawhi Leonard could have tested free agency if the LA Clippers had been eliminated in an earlier round. However, given the team's recent surge and how they are winning without him, he might stick around for an extension and pick up his player option. He is also looking at serious injuries so picking the player option does seem like the best idea for him.