After his subpar performance put the LA Clippers on the brink of elimination, Kawhi Leonard was determined to get his team back to Los Angeles for a winner take all Game 7. Friday night in Dallas, he willed his team to fight another day.
Leonard tied his playoff career-high with 45 points as he led the Clippers to a 104-97 victory over the Dallas Mavericks at the AmericanAirlines Center to force Game 7 on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.
The win by the Clippers made six straight victories for the road team in a playoff series for the first time ever in NBA history. Los Angeles will need to find a way to break that trend and win at home, overwise it will be a very long summer of “what ifs”.
“Just another basketball game,” Leonard said. “Like we say, if we don’t want to go home, pay attention to details, have faith, shooting the ball with confidence. If you do that, you can live with the results.”
Reggie Jackson scored 14 of his 25 points in the first quarter and Paul George added 20 of his own to keep the Clippers alive for at least one more game.
The Clippers led 90-88 with just over four minutes left but Leonard would rattle off eight straight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Clippers up 98-90 with one minute remaining.
“Great players perform in big moments,” Clippers Head Coach Tyronn Lue said. “It just shows you who Kawhi Leonard is.”
Meanwhile, the Mavericks have struggled since going up 2-0 in the series. They are 0-3 at home in the playoffs and are just 1-3 in the last four games. A big reason for that is the play of Luka Doncic, who is dealing with a lingering back issue.
Doncic scored 29 points but struggled from distance, going just 2-for-9 from three-point range thanks to the suffocating Clippers’ defense. Los Angeles held Dallas to just 29 percent shooting in the fourth quarter, outscoring them 31-20 in the final 12 minutes.
Tim Hardaway Jr. had 23 points but missed an open three-pointer in the final moments. Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle opted to go big and started Boban Marjanovich, who scored 12 points in 17 minutes.
However, no one had an answer for Leonard, who dominated both ends of the court in the fourth quarter when it mattered the most.
“He’s been a big factor defensively throughout the series,” Carlisle said. “The fact that he had the energy offensively to hit those shots down the stretch, the majority of which were very difficult, is something to behold.”