Kawhi Leonard hits game winning shot for Los Angeles Clippers in his first game back from injury

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Kawhi Leonard could not have had a better return. Monday night was Leonard’s first game back after sitting out with a sprained ankle. He last played on November 21 against the Utah Jazz.

The five-time All-Star had 16 points, including an 18-foot jumper with 1.4 seconds to lift the Los Angeles Clippers to a 119-117 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

“I don’t think anyone loves this game more than I do,” said Leonard. “It gives me joy when I can play. And it was great to get that shot.”

Paul George also came back from a pulled hamstring to score 19 points along with seven assists, helping the Clippers snap a two-game losing streak. Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum each had 13 points and John Wall added 12 points and 12 assists.

LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) brings the ball onto the field on a quick break against Hornets

LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) brings the ball onto the field on a quick break against Hornets

Luke Kennard also added nine points from the bench in his first game back from injury.

Charlotte’s Kelly Oubre scored 28 points and PJ Washington added 26 after going 0 for 13 on Saturday night. Washington missed a fadeaway jumper as time expired that would have tied the game.

Getting Leonard, George and Kennard back should be a huge boost for the Clippers (14-11). Leonard has been out since November 21, George since November 19 and Kennard since November 15 with a calf strain.

George said it’s “super important” to get everyone back to health and it felt like the start of a new season.

“This is a really great opportunity to get back on track,” said George. “We played well when we were healthy and now we can start building the team we tried to be.”

The victory did not come easily.

Leonard #2 shoots the ball while guarded by Jalen McDaniels #6 of the Charlotte Hornets

Leonard #2 shoots the ball while guarded by Jalen McDaniels #6 of the Charlotte Hornets

Leonard #2 shoots the ball while guarded by Jalen McDaniels #6 of the Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets (7-17) defeated the Clippers 26-8 and entered the third quarter behind eight points from Terry Rozier to take an 80-71 lead.

The Clippers tied when George saved an offensive rebound from going out of bounds by tapping the ball to Leonard under the basket for an easy basket.

“We’ve got to get that rebound,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford. “It’s the second game this year, you play once and they must make a mistake, we’re ahead twice. That’s the greatest game.’

After Jalen McDaniels missed a 3 at the other end, the Clippers found Leonard for an isolation play on the right side of the field.

He faked a ball to freeze McDaniels, then dribbled once and stepped left to clear the shot before exchanging a high-five with George and a flying chest punch with Marcus Morris Sr.

“My teammates trusted me,” said Leonard. “I was able to get into my place and my team gave me space. I was able to put down a shot.’

Marcus Morris Sr.  #8 celebrates with Leonard after Leonard hits the winning shot

Marcus Morris Sr.  #8 celebrates with Leonard after Leonard hits the winning shot

Marcus Morris Sr. #8 celebrates with Leonard after Leonard hits the winning shot

ROCKETS 132, 76ERS 123, 2 OT

Jalen Green scored 27 points and Kevin Porter Jr. added 24 to lead Houston over Philadelphia as James Harden struggled through his return from injury.

Harden had 21 points but shot 4 for 19 from the field in his first game since Nov. 2. Coach Doc Rivers said Harden, who spent just over eight seasons with the Rockets before being traded to Brooklyn in January 2021, will be on a minute restriction upon his return. But Harden didn’t seem to be much limited and played 39 minutes.

He had missed 14 games with a pulled tendon in his right foot. He missed all eight attempts within the 3-point arc, but still got to the line as always and made 9 of 10 free throws.

Joel Embiid had 39 points before going out late in the first overtime and Tobias Harris added 27 as the Sixers dropped their third straight.

Houston Rockets' Jalen Green (4) shoots the ball as Philadelphia 76ers' PJ Tucker (17) defends

Houston Rockets' Jalen Green (4) shoots the ball as Philadelphia 76ers' PJ Tucker (17) defends

Houston Rockets’ Jalen Green (4) shoots the ball as Philadelphia 76ers’ PJ Tucker (17) defends

KELTICS 116, RAPTORS 110

Jayson Tatum had 31 points and 12 rebounds, Jaylen Brown scored 22 points and Boston won for the seventh time in eight games by beating Toronto.

Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart scored 18 points for Boston after sitting out Sunday’s win in Brooklyn with a bruised left hip.

Blake Griffin scored 13 points and Luke Kornet had 11 for the Celtics, who have the NBA’s best record at 20-5. Boston is 16-2 since the start of the season 4-3.

Pascal Siakam scored 29 points, Scottie Barnes had 21 and Gary Trent Jr. 20, but Toronto lost for the first time in four home games. The Raptors are 9-3 north of the border this season.

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Celtics shoots over Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Celtics shoots over Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Celtics shoots over Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors

MAVERICKS 130, SUNS 111

Luka Doncic scored 33 points, Spencer Dinwiddie added 21 and Dallas held on to a big lead against Phoenix this time around.

The Mavericks maintained control after a 28–8 run that took up most of the last 10 minutes of the first quarter as they ended a 10-game, regular season losing streak against the Western Conference-leading Suns.

Dallas squandered a 22-point lead in the second half of a 107-105 loss at Phoenix in the season opener between teams that met in the West Semifinals last season. Dallas won that series last spring with a Game 7 loss at the Suns’ home court.

Deandre Ayton scored 20 points for the Suns, who couldn’t recover from a 15-point first quarter, their lowest total in any quarter this season, as they finished back-to-back in Texas after a stellar win in San Antonio.

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) evades Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25)

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) evades Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25)

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) evades Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25)

BUCKS 109, MAGIC 102

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored five of his 34 points in the final two minutes to help Milwaukee hold off a late Orlando rally.

Bobby Portis added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Bucks, and Jrue Holiday added 17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

Franz Wagner led Orlando by 25 points. Markelle Fultz and Paolo Banchero each added 20 points. Banchero also had 12 rebounds for the Magic, who lost their ninth consecutive game.

Antetokounmpo, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Holiday hit 3-pointers on a 16-0 Milwaukee run midway through the first half as Orlando went scoreless for 5 1/2 minutes. The spurt gave the Bucks an 11-point lead that they extended to 15 midway through the period.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) dunks the ball against Orlando

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) dunks the ball against Orlando

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) dunks the ball against Orlando

GRIZZLIES 101, HEATING 93

Tyus Jones had a career-high 28 points and 10 assists to lead shorthanded Memphis over Miami.

Santi Aldama added 18 points and Dillon Brooks finished with 17 for Memphis, which played without leading scorer Ja Morant and several other key players.

Tyler Herro led the Heat with 23 points and 13 rebounds. Jimmy Butler, who had only one field goal in the first half, scored 18 and Caleb Martin finished with 16 for the Heat.

Both teams entered the game having won four of their previous five games, including a Memphis victory over Detroit on Sunday. But playing the second night of a back-to-back meant several Grizzlies besides Morant were unavailable. Three of the five most recent starters – Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and John Konchar – were out, leaving plenty of minutes for reserves and two-way players.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Tyus Jones (21) brings the ball up court against the Miami Heat

Memphis Grizzlies guard Tyus Jones (21) brings the ball up court against the Miami Heat

Memphis Grizzlies guard Tyus Jones (21) brings the ball up court against the Miami Heat

THURS 121, HAWKS 114

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 35 points, Josh Giddey had 12 of his 17 points in the final period, and Oklahoma City overcame a 14-point deficit in the third quarter to beat Atlanta.

Dejounte Murray finished with 24 points and Trae Young had 23 points and 10 assists for the Hawks (13-11), who have squandered six double-digit leads this season. They started the evening tied for second in the NBA in that category.

Earning its third straight win, Oklahoma City (11-13) has outscored its last three opponents 106-68 in the fourth. The Thunder trailed 88-84 going into the final period.

Giddey’s three-point play early in the fourth inning made it 91-90 for the Thunder’s first lead since late in the first. They were never behind again as Gilgeous-Alexander, the league’s third leading scorer, continued to make free throws on the stretch. He scored 12 runs in the fourth to finish 15 for 15 from the foul line.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) shoots against the Atlanta Hawks

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) shoots against the Atlanta Hawks

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) shoots against the Atlanta Hawks

INDIANA 112, WARRIORS 104

Rookie guard Andrew Nembhard had a career scoring 31 points and 13 assists to take the Pacers to a victory over the Warriors at Golden State.

Buddy Heild was the Pacers’ next leading scorer with 17 points, as the team also lacked point guard Tyrese Haliburton.

Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole both gave their best and scored over 20, but it wasn’t enough to hold on to a win.

Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) moves the ball while being defended by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry

Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) moves the ball while being defended by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry

Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) moves the ball while being defended by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry