LOS ANGELES • For the Los Angeles Clippers, Thursday began with a series of phone calls from the National Basketball Association office and a US$50,000 (S$67,989) fine.
For their best player, it proceeded to get worse from there.
Only hours after the NBA took the step of publicly detailing that he is suffering from an ongoing injury to the patella tendon in his left knee, Kawhi Leonard certainly did not look right.
The Clippers' star forward made only three of his first 13 field goals against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Staples Centre, scoring just nine points through three quarters.
When it mattered most, however, Leonard, who is averaging 29.3 points per game, appeared not only fine but unstoppable.
The league's leading fourth-quarter scorer dropped 18 points in the final 12 minutes to lead the hosts to a 107-101 victory.
He established, once again, that if he is not healthy enough to play every game this season, he is still capable of taking over those in which he does appear.
"He (Leonard) has an incredible will," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought he felt like he was struggling a little bit.
"He has this, I don't know what it is, this determination like, 'I'm going to go get the win'. He plays the game to win.
"It's the third game we've won, in my opinion, completely because of our defence. Our offence was below average and we were still able to win. Early going, that's a great sign for a basketball team."
HOW KAWHI LEONARD STARTED (FIELD GOALS)
3 of 13
HOW HE ENDED
6 of 10
Leonard led all scorers to finish with 27 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes, while the visitors were paced by 22 points each from C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard.
Teammate Lou Williams made a three-pointer with 32 seconds remaining that turned a one-point Clippers lead into a two-possession game and the arena into a wall of sound.
It was a rare make from beyond the arc, on a night when the Clippers (6-3) made a season-low four three-pointers on 23 attempts, but once again their bench came good.
"Big-time players get themselves going, especially when it's time to win a game," said reserve guard Williams, who scored 26 points, while forward Montrezl Harrell had 15.
Rivers was later doused with a tub of ice water in the locker room in a cold commemoration of the coach's 900th career win, making him the 13th coach in NBA history with as many victories.
The celebrations capped a day that began in a far less festive mood, after the league docked the Clippers for their handling of Leonard's absence the day before, against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Finals Most Valuable Player has missed two games already because of "load management" and each time the NBA publicly backed the Clippers despite league rules prohibiting teams from resting players for high-profile games.
POWERS OF RECOVERY
He (Leonard) has an incredible will. I thought he felt like he was struggling a little bit. He has this, I don't know what it is, this determination like, 'I'm going to go get the win'. He plays the game to win.
DOC RIVERS, Clippers coach, on Kawhi Leonard.
It was determined the team were within compliance and would not be fined, because the Clippers medical staff had provided the league information about Leonard's condition ahead of time.
Officials, then, were frustrated by the comments Rivers made before Wednesday's tip-off, claiming there was "no concern here" about his health, leading to the fine.