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San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard made his highly anticipated season debut Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks after missing the first 27 games of the season with right quadriceps tendinopathy, and didn’t disappoint in his limited action.
Playing just 16 minutes, Leonard flashed every facet of his superstar arsenal, finishing with 13 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year made his first three shots and ended the night 6-of-12.
After the game, Leonard told reporters he’s happy to be back on the floor playing the game he loves and competing at a high level with his teammates.
“It feels good [to be back],” Leonard told reporters. “Glad I was able to play tonight and get it out of the way. I’m just happy to be out there, just to play the game and enjoy the things I missed. Missing shots, losing games, making mistakes, just everything. I missed everything on the court and I’m just glad I was able to play.”
The Spurs ended up losing to the Mavs, 95-89. Leonard says he knows he’s going to be under a minutes restriction as he makes his way back. He went to the locker room with about a minute left in the third quarter and never returned.
“It wasn’t tough,” Leonard said. “I understand the situation that I’m in and we’re thinking about down the road. Just coming from not playing and then jumping into an NBA game is definitely a different feeling from what I’ve been doing throughout my rehab process.”
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had high praise for his franchise player, calling Leonard’s performance “wonderful.”
“I thought he [Leonard] was wonderful,” Popovich said. “He’s trying to get some rust off and that sort of thing. Obviously, he’s confident, a heck of a player. It was really frustrating for him to just start getting loose and have to come off the court. It was a tough situation for him. He can only have so many minutes so that’s the way it is.”
The Spurs’ next game is going to be a tough challenge, as they head to Houston to take on Chris Paul, James Harden and the red-hot Rockets, who own the best record in the NBA.