Kawhi, Rivers say star’s health trending upward

LOS ANGELES — After erasing a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit, Kawhi Leonard drove left around Glenn Robinson III and put the punctuation on his big night with his second monster dunk of the game as Omari Spellman thought about challenging before floating away from harm.

The LA Clippers had four days off between games, and their All-Star forward clearly benefited from the time off. Looking fresh, with extra “thrust” in his game Friday, Leonard was explosive and had 36 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals to lift the Clippers to a 109-100 victory over the stubborn Golden State Warriors.

Leonard, who has not played in a complete back-to-back set of games this season due to left knee soreness he’s managing, admitted that he’s feeling stronger and on an upward trend. He dunked four times against the Warriors.

“I feel better,” Leonard said. “Feeling better. I’m able to jump without it grabbing too much. And hopefully I just keep going uphill from here.”

Last weekend, the Clippers (27-12) struggled and surrendered a total of 272 points to split back-to-back home games with the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks.

Leonard did not play in that Sunday afternoon win over the Knicks as he sat out the second of the back-to-back set, as has been the routine this season. With Monday and Tuesday off, the team practiced Wednesday and Thursday and had four days off from games, while Leonard made the most of his five-day game-free break after sitting out against the Knicks.

Playing without the injured Paul George (left hamstring tightness), the Clippers struggled early Friday night, but Leonard had 15 points in the first half.

He also displayed his deceptive explosiveness when he drove around Eric Paschall and dunked on Alen Smailagic with authority. Paschall challenged the dunk from behind but Leonard still threw down the one-handed dunk despite being sandwiched by the two Warriors in the second quarter.

“You know, he’s been doing it a lot lately,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I think he is in a far better place now than he was in Game 1 [of the regular season], let’s just put it like that.

“You can see it with him, you can see it in the practices, it’s just going up,” Rivers continued of Leonard’s health. “You can feel it, you can see it, he has a better thrust now. And it’s good, it has been really good to see.”

Still, the Clippers trailed 83-73 to the D’Angelo Russell-less Warriors at the start of the fourth quarter. But Leonard scored 10 of his points in the fourth — eight coming in the final 5:40 against the team he helped the Toronto Raptors beat in the NBA Finals last June.

The Finals MVP stole the ball from Jordan Poole and took it in for a left-handed dunk early in the quarter to help spark a 19-6 run. Leonard then put the game away with his second monster dunk of the night to give the Clippers a six-point lead with 1:16 remaining.

The Clippers outscored the Warriors 36-17 in the final quarter to escape what could have been a dreadful loss to the 9-31 team.

“That left hand is strong, man,” Clippers guard Lou Williams said of Leonard. “He goes in there with his left hand, his right hand. We were just talking about it — I think he dunked on three different groups of guys during this game.

“Just playing aggressive, going to the rim and doing the things we needed him to do. That was special.”

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