MIAMI — LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard earned the first triple-double of his career in Friday night’s 122-117 comeback victory over the Miami Heat. Leonard finished the game with 33 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, bringing the Clippers back from a 15-point deficit, while handing the Heat just their second home loss of the season.
“It’s just a great honor,” Leonard said. “But I’m just more happy with the win. I just feel good that we came in here and got a win tonight.”
Playing without Paul George (hamstring) and Patrick Beverley (groin), both Leonard and the Clippers got off to a sluggish start. After going 2-for-11 to begin the game, Leonard closed strong — scoring 17 points in the third quarter and hitting clutch shots and free throws in the final minutes.
Leonard said he became aware of the triple-double at the end of the third quarter, but the feat didn’t become official until another rebound in the fourth quarter after a previous rebound had been taken away.
“I believe going into the fourth Coach [Tyronn] Lue told me ‘Congratulations,'” Leonard said. “And I didn’t know what he was talking about and he said I got my first triple-double so that’s when I was aware.”
The fact that Leonard — in his ninth NBA season — had never recorded a triple-double was stunning to his teammates and coaches.
“Actually I thought he had one already,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Yeah, that’s cool. And he had to — [the Heat] were trapping him. And instead of trying to force it, he just kept taking the traps, moving the ball, getting guys open shots. And the whole key is like Kawhi said in [the locker room], ‘I’m going to pass you that ball, but the key was that you guys made the shots.’ That led to the end of the game where then he got his isos, and then he started scoring. So it was like he was a boxer and he just kind of took his time until he could throw punches.”
After a disappointing loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night, Rivers and his players said they were proud of the way they bounced back behind Leonard’s performance.
“Everybody plays different so I’m happy for him,” Clippers guard Lou Williams said. “Maybe it’ll be something that he’s able to do continuously for us. He’s such a selfless guy that he gave us credit for making shots for him for the triple-double. I’m happy for him, it was a good night. “
Leonard has now scored at least 30 points in seven consecutive games, joining World B. Free and Bob McAdoo as the only players to accomplish that feat in franchise history. Leonard’s 33 points also matched Blake Griffin’s record for most points scored in a triple-double in franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“That’s crazy, man,” Clippers guard Landry Shamet said. “Happy for him. Happy I got to be a part of it. Happy he passed me the ball a few times and I got the assists on there for him. That’s cool, I guess. That still is crazy to me, a player as good as him. Obviously he had to have been close a number of times. He does so much for our team, he’s great.”
Rivers was particularly pleased with the fact his team dished out 33 assists and had only eight turnovers on the night. He says he believes the key is that Leonard has developed into a better passer in recent years.
“It’s amazing,” Rivers said of Leonard’s first career triple-double. “But he’s become a better passer as his career’s come on. If you watched him even last year, scorer, rebounder, defender, and then towards the end of the playoffs — scorer, rebounder, defender, passer. This year he picked up where he left off. He’s been passing all year for us, so it’s been phenomenal.”
As Leonard completed his postgame news conference, a Clippers security official waited patiently by his side with the game ball in his hands. When asked what he would do with the ball, Leonard said he might use it differently than most other players would.
“Just take it home,” Leonard said. “I don’t know. I might shoot with it.”