Paul George said he was “super relieved” that he and Kawhi Leonard are healthy after having to enter the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
George and Leonard were cleared from protocol and returned to help the visiting LA Clippers cruise past the Orlando Magic 116-90 on Friday.
“We were playing so well, it was unfortunate that we had to take a hiatus, but safety’s first,” George said. “We acknowledge that first and foremost.”
Because of contact tracing, George and Leonard were in protocol for only four days. They entered quarantine on Monday as the team departed Los Angeles for Atlanta to start a six-game road swing. The two stars missed two games before rejoining the team in Orlando, Florida.
“It was a bummer because we were on a good roll, and me and PG go out,” Leonard said, referring to the Clippers being on a seven-game winning streak when he and George entered protocol. “That’s my mindset around it. Just want to play basketball and wanting to keep building on our chemistry and get better, but understand what the protocols are, and it was a chance for guys to step up and play a bigger role.”
With their two best players back, the Clippers won their second straight game after losing in Atlanta on Tuesday. George scored 26 points in 28 minutes and became the first player in franchise history with at least 26 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals in under 30 minutes played.
Leonard scored 24 points in 29 minutes and said he spent the time away from the team maintaining his conditioning at home and staying in touch with coaches to go over the game plans even for the games he missed.
“Still trying to follow game plans with the Hawks and the last game, Miami,” Leonard said of what he did during quarantine. “Just talking to the coaches, trying to see just what our coverages are, just keeping my mind in the game.”
Coach Ty Lue said he had both players on a minutes restriction to be cautious with his stars coming out of quarantine. But George and Leonard both showed how fresh their legs were early, each throwing down a big dunk in the first half against Orlando.
“I think on a night when guys were a little tired, just having their presence was big for us,” Lue said. “It was huge. Just making plays for everybody else, making the game easy. When teams double-team Kawhi or PG on the post-ups or pick-and-roll, it just makes it easier because our guys are getting open shots, so we need those guys tonight.”