by Alex Poletti
Photo by BleacherReport
Following a game seven loss to the Denver Nuggets, kicking the Clippers out of playoff contention, Los Angeles head coach Doc Rivers spoke to the media expressing some regret for resting star player Kawhi Leonard during the crucial game for load management reasons.
“We take load management very seriously,” Rivers explains. “Our thought process was always to give Kawhi all the rest he needed to make sure he was ready for the big games. I guess we just thought the big games would come in the Conference and NBA Finals, not this early.”
Without Leonard leading the attack, the Clippers were walloped by the Nuggets, led by a triple-double from Denver center Nikola Jokic. Now, one of the most hyped teams of the season finds themselves outside the bubble for the Western Conference Finals.
“We started the series ahead 3-1, so we thought we could give Kawhi some time,” Rivers says. “Then the Nuggets started creeping back, and we were wondering if maybe now was the time to get him back in, but in the end we decided it was best to make sure his load was controllable. It might have lost us the game, but I’m sure Kawhi will feel well rested for some offseason pickup games.”
Leonard, last year’s NBA Finals MVP with the Toronto Raptors, drew criticism early in the season for taking high profile games off, including a nationally televised game against the high-powered Milwaukee Bucks. According to team reports, the San Diego State product was nursing a knee injury early in the season, which contributed to his playing time.
“You can never be too careful about those kinds of things,” Rivers continues. “We really thought he needed the time to get back to 100 percent. Who knows, if we somehow bent the rules and got to a game eight, Leonard would have been ready to go.”
Instead of hoisting the Finals trophy over their heads, the Clippers now face an offseason of disappointment, attempting to do all they can with just a year left of Leonard and Paul George and a dearth of picks.
“I think the key is making sure Kawhi is well rested for next year,” Rivers concludes. “When you think about it, this is really a blessing. Now that he doesn’t have to play any Conference or NBA Finals games, he’ll probably be able to play two or three straight to start next season.”