Rivers addresses late substitution of Kawhi: 'I didn't think we were going to win'
Barry Gossage / National Basketball Association / Getty

Kawhi Leonard's load management became one of the biggest talking points in the league last season, and it's already sparked controversy just three games into his tenure with the Los Angeles Clippers.

With 4:15 remaining in Saturday's affair and L.A. trailing the Phoenix Suns 115-103, head coach Doc Rivers substituted Leonard out of the game for Moe Harkless.

The Clippers would immediately battle back and pulled as close as seven points. However, Leonard remained on the bench until the 1:34 mark.

Rivers cited a 30-35 minutes limit for the reigning Finals MVP and wanted to adhere to that as Leonard was already at 31 when he exited the matchup.

"Honestly, I didn't think we were going to win the game," Rivers said after the loss, according to The Athletic's Jovan Buha. "We could’ve kept him in. 35 is a lot of minutes. ... I just chose not to. I wasn't going to keep him out there when we weren't playing right as a whole, as a group."

The Suns eventually prevailed 130-122 to hand the Clippers their first defeat of the season.

Leonard posted 27 points, 10 assists, and eight boards in 32 minutes to finish just shy of his first career triple-double.

Under last year's load management program, Leonard appeared in 60 games last season for the Toronto Raptors and never played in back-to-back contests as the club eased the three-time All-Star back from a quad injury, which limited him to nine appearances during the 2017-18 campaign.

Leonard averaged career highs in points (26.6) and rebounds (7.3) during the regular season and remained fresh throughout the playoffs to lead Toronto to its first-ever NBA title.

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Rivers addresses late substitution of Kawhi: 'I didn't think we were going to win'
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