Kawhi Leonard returned to the Clippers lineup for the first time since missing 12 straight games due to knee stiffness in his surgically repaired knee.

The Clippers originally listed Leonard as out for the Thursday night game, but his status was upgraded to questionable following their morning shootaround. Team doctors gave Leonard the green light to play for the first time since he first experienced knee stiffness on Oct. 25.

Leonard scored six points (2-8 shooting from the field), brought down five rebounds, and dished four assists in 25 minutes to help the Clippers outlast the Pistons 96-91. The two-time champ was also plus-26 on the floor. Leonard’s double-digit scoring streak ended at 177 straight regular-season games after he scored six points, the third-longest active streak behind LeBron James and Luka Doncic, per ESPN.

The last time the Klaw failed to break 10 points was Dec. 18, 2017, against the Clippers.

KAWHI. pic.twitter.com/5LOHxMNJIo

— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) November 18, 2022

During his postgame remarks with reporters, Leonard didn’t detail the stiffness that kept him out of 12 straight games. However, the Klaw reiterated that his recovery from his torn ACL would be a “two-year process.”

“Like I said before, at the start of the season, it’s going to be a long journey,” Leonard said, per ESPN. “ACL recovery isn’t just one year. Everybody thinks that, but it’s a two-year process, so I know that, and I’m going to keep going and going through the process.”

When teammate Reggie Jackson (23 points, three rebounds, three assists) was asked about Leonard’s return, the veteran point guard said he tries to “remind him that he’s Kawhi Leonard” and that “he’s special. He’s one of the best ever to play his game.” Jackson also said that the Clippers have the “utmost confidence in” Leonard “no matter what the result was.”

Every time pic.twitter.com/Rr55Patmfv

— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) November 18, 2022

Head coach Tyronn Lue said that his decision to start Leonard was due to not liking the process of bringing Leonard off the bench midway through the second quarter like the Clippers did his first two games. That initial game plan was designed to allow Leonard to close games out in the fourth quarter and to ensure he doesn’t sit too long between playing spurts.

“After I played those first two games, it was dead already,” Leonard said of his preference to start or come off the bench. “T-Lue wanted me to start the games and get us going in a flow. So, before I sat out [12 straight games], I knew I was gonna be starting.”

The Clippers will likely cautiously approach Leonard’s future availability after playing his first game in nearly a month. The next time they play will be when they host the Spurs on Saturday.

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