Kawhi Leonard scores 24 in his return, leading Clippers to comeback over Heat

Kawhi Leonard’s introduction in the Clippers’ starting lineup Monday evening was met by a familiar roar through Crypto.com Arena — the sound of a collective sigh of relief of seeing Leonard again after missing four consecutive games with a left hip contusion.

Less than two quarters later, Leonard’s tumble to the court and hard landing on that same hip, after scoring off an offensive rebound while being fouled, was met by a moment of unease — one familiar to anyone who has watched Leonard go in and out of the lineup because of injuries.

But this time, unlike in Dallas on Dec. 20 when Leonard aggravated the injury, Leonard popped up quickly, made his free throw and went back to changing his team’s fortune in his first game back.

After missing his first two shots, Leonard made his next five and scored 13 points all in the second quarter to help the Clippers climb out of a 14-point deficit to lead by one at halftime — an advantage they never gave up again in a 121-104 win against Miami that improved them to 20-12.

With Leonard scoring 24 points, Paul George 23 and Norman Powell 22 off the bench, the Clippers won for the 12th time in 14 games.

Leonard added six rebounds and five assists and made 10 of his 19 field goals in his first game since his fall in Dallas.

The seven turnovers that contributed to their sleep-walking first quarter? They turned it over only 10 more times in the final three quarters.

The Clippers shot 58%, and made 14 of their 29 three-pointers, with James Harden playing orchestrator again, with 15 points and 10 assists. The Clippers led by as many as 22 points.

Leonard, who hadn’t been cleared to return to the court as late as Friday, practiced Sunday and had moments where he looked to be coming back from a 10-day layoff. His midrange jumper, a Leonard staple, was unusually short in the third quarter, and then he was stripped of the ball by former UCLA star Jaime Jacquez Jr. for a dunk.

But in the fourth quarter, the Clippers leading by 10, he blew by Bam Adebayo for a baseline reverse dunk, then on the next possession ripped a steal from Kevin Love. And with 8:40 to play, he stole a bad pass by Adebayo and dribbled into a transition three-pointer for a 106-90 lead — a bucket he celebrated with a leaping high-five going into the next huddle.

The Heat (19-14) played without Jimmy Butler. Jaquez, who was received warmly during pregame introductions, scored 15 points.