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Doc Rivers defends sitting Kawhi Leonard: ‘We obviously have to do what’s right by our players’


Doc Rivers understands why NBA fans may have been disappointed while watching his team on Wednesday night.

There’s just nothing he can do about it.

The Los Angeles Clippers, who fell 129-124 to the Milwaukee Bucks at the Staples Center, sat star Kawhi Leonard because of load management. The once promising matchup between Leonard and Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will have to wait — something that left NBA fans extremely upset since the team announced the move on Tuesday.

Though the NBA has said the decision to rest Leonard for the second time in just eight games is fine, many fans who will watch the nationally televised game at home or live at the Staples Center are upset by the move.

While Rivers gets that frustration, he said there’s nothing he can do about it.

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“I’m a fan of basketball as well, not just a coach. I feel for that. I understand that,” Rivers said. “We obviously have to do what’s right by our players. We have to. It’s our duty.”

Leonard is dealing with a knee injury, and the NBA agreed that he’s “not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games at this time.” He missed the Clippers’ game against the Utah Jazz on Oct. 30, though played the next night. He plans to play Thursday against the Portland Trail Blazers, too, another nationally televised game.

Given Leonard’s history with injuries — specifically during his time with the San Antonio Spurs — it makes sense why the Clippers are being cautious with the reigning NBA Finals MVP. Pushing him too hard now in November simply isn’t worth the risk, as they’ll need Leonard in peak condition to successfully make a deep postseason run.

The move to sit Leonard for the front end of the back-to-back, however, is a tough one for many fans to swallow, and rightfully so. Wednesday’s matchup is just one of two between the Clippers and Bucks this season, and would have pitted two of the best players in the league against each other. And, given how the game shook out in the fourth quarter, Leonard could have been the missing piece to push the Clippers past the Bucks in the five-point loss.

It may be annoying, but Rivers is sticking with his decision. His team comes first, and he’s playing the long game — even if that means upsetting fans along the way.

“For a fan, it’s really a tough one,” Rivers said. “There’s no correct answer that I’m going to give you that will satisfy [them].”

It may upset fans, but Doc Rivers is standing by his decision to rest Kawhi Leonard against the Bucks on Wednesday night.
It may upset fans, but Doc Rivers is standing by his decision to rest Kawhi Leonard against the Bucks on Wednesday night. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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