David Chao, MD: Kawhi Leonard Knee Injury Looks Like More Than A Sprain

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It’s been a summer of injuries and intrigue in the NBA playoffs, and Clippers star forward Kawhi Leonard is the latest big news of the day.

Leonard suffered an injury in Game 4 vs. the Jazz, clutching at his knee and grimacing in pain after a drive to the basket. Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Clippers fear Leonard has suffered an ACL injury, perhaps a sprain. He is out indefinitely.

This type of play does not seem typical for a knee sprain. Instead, it resembles a bone contusion or knee “jamming.” As Leonard crosses the 3-point line, he is pushed and lands hard on the right knee. This is not a direct contusion where the knee is hit. Instead, the two ends of the bone, femur and tibia, forcibly make contact.

Leonard grabs at the outside of the knee, an action that fits my scenario. The fact he briefly kept playing fits as well. Typically, one can keep going in the immediate aftermath of a bone contusion, but it becomes more painful and swells overnight.

X-rays cannot reveal the extent of the injury, but an MRI can. If Leonard does have an ACL injury, the timeline goes well beyond Game 5 and could easily go beyond this series. So I would not be surprised (nor would I blame Leonard) if he took a cautious long-term approach.

He did that with another same side knee injury in 2017, when he had quadriceps tendinopathy. At the time, the Spurs were saying he could play through it, but Leonard said he couldn’t. That led to a fallout and him being traded to the Raptors.

Leonard is likely to remain with the Clippers this time, but the injury could hold off a return until next season. If that’s the case, the offseason could come earlier than the Clippers were hoping.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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