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Kawhi Leonard forced to leave game after blow to head; Clippers hang on to beat Nuggets

Los Angeles Clippers v Denver Nuggets

DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 25: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Los Angeles Clippers is attended to after being injured against the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena on December 25, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

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On a day full of NBA blowouts, the Clippers were doing their part, leading the Denver Nuggets by 24 at one point and cruising to a win. The NBA’s Christmas Day nightcap lacked drama.

That was until Serge Ibaka inadvertently elbowed Kawhi Leonard, dropping the Clippers star like he got hit with an MMA roundhouse kick to the head. Warning, the video below is not for the squeamish.

“He got up and walked off the floor, so he’s gonna be good,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. He added that Leonard needed eight stitches to close the cut, and was still being evaluated for a possible concussion or other injuries.

Without Leonard on the floor for the stretch run, the Clippers kept defending well and hitting threes, and with that, held off a hard-charging Nuggets team to win 121-108.

Los Angeles got another strong game from Paul George — 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting — the Clippers pulled away in the second quarter to lead by 17 at the half and never looked back. Denver tried to make it interesting in the final quarter, starting the fourth on an 11-0 run to cut the lead to 13, but they could never really threaten. Even after Leonard went down.

The Clippers got 21 points from Leonard on 14 shots — a couple of those buckets killing the momentum Denver tried to create in the fourth — plus 15 points from Serge Ibaka and 13 points from Nicolas Batum, who has played surprisingly well for Los Angeles through two games.

Nikola Jokic led Denver with 24 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds. Jamal Murray added 23 points, and Will Barton had 15 off the bench.

The Clippers have opened the season with wins for the Lakers and the Nuggets (the team that came from 3-1 down to knock the Clips out of the playoffs last year). Does that give the Clippers some satisfaction and feeling of revenge going forward?

“Nothing, I kind of buried last year. I left last year in the bubble….” George said. “I buried that. Fact is this is a new season, new team, new goals.”

That new team is off to a fast start.