As dramatically as Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard reestablished himself as one of the best basketball players in the world with 38- and 31-point outputs in Games 1 and 2, respectively, in his team’s first round Western Conference playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, his future on the court was placed in doubt with another knee injury.
After the No. 5 seed Clippers took Game 1 by 115-110 and lost Game 2 123-10 against the No. 4 seed Suns, they headed back to Los Angeles for Game 3 last Thursday confident in their chances to earn a series win versus the favored Suns. But early in the day the
Clippers announced the 31-year-old Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals most valuable player, would be out with a sprained right knee—the same injury that had kept eight-time All-Star Paul George out of the lineup since March 21.
RELATED: Knicks return to Garden to resume playoff battle with Cavs
Without Leonard, the Suns went on to capture Games 3, 4 and 5, ending the series 4-1 on Tuesday night at home with a 136-130. Then, yesterday, after some in the media and on social media had, without evidence, questioned the severity of Leonard’s injury suggesting he should have attempted to play through the injury, it was reported his issues were much more serious as he has a torn meniscus.
Now the Suns are set to face the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed Denver Nuggets in a semifinal matchup starting this Sunday. Like the Suns, the Nuggets defeated the No. 8 seed Minnesota Timberwolves in a gentleman’s sweep, finishing them off 4-1 by winning a hard-fought Game 5 on Tuesday at home, 112-109. The other West semifinal pairing has yet to be decided.
The No. 2 seed Memphis Grizzlies were at home last night trying to fight off being ousted by the No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers, who led 3-1 following a 117-111 over Memphis in L.A. on Monday as LeBron James scored 22 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. The No. 3 seed Sacramento Kings hosted the No. 6 seed Golden State Warriors last night (Wednesday) with the series even at 2-2.
In the East, the Knicks were in Cleveland yesterday evening up 3-1 and vying for their first series win in the last 10 years. On Tuesday, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young’s remarkable effort, registering 38 points and 13 assists on the road, including a go-ahead 30-foot 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left, lifted the No. 7 Hawks to a 119-110 victory over the No. 2 Boston Celtics and pushing the 3-2 series back to Atlanta for Game 6 tonight. The Philadelphia 76ers swept the Brooklyn Nets 4-0 and await the winner of Celtics-Hawks.
Undoubtedly the most shocking series is between the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks and the No. 8 seed Miami Heat. The Bucks are on the edge of one of the biggest upsets in recent NBA history. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, plausibly the best player in the world, suffered a back contusion in Game 1 after falling to the court and only played 11 minutes in the Bucks 130-111 loss.
He sat out Games 2 and 3, and returned Monday in Milwaukee with the Bucks trailing 2-1 displaying his usual preeminence, scoring 26 points with 13 assists and 10 rebounds. But Heat forward Jimmy Butler had a game for the ages, scoring a franchise playoff record 56 and pulling his teammates along with him as the Heat overcame a 14-point fourth quarter deficit for a 119-114 victory. Game 5 in Miami is tomorrow night.