LOS ANGELES – No chest-thumping, shouting or theatrics. With very little change of expression, Kawhi Leonard altered the Los Angeles Clippers' playoff fortunes.
Leonard narrowly missed a triple-double, finishing with 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, to help the Clippers finish off the Dallas Mavericks 126-111 on Sunday in Game 7 of the first-round series.
“It's all about the moment,” Leonard said. “You got to be aggressive all night and don't try to make the game be perfect.”
Playing in front of a noisy mix of 7,342 masked fans and cardboard cutouts, the Clippers did what neither team had been able to pull off in the first six games — win at home. It was the first time in NBA history the road team won the first six games of a playoff series.
“We saw everything in this series,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.
The Clippers became the fifth team in league history to lose the first two games at home and come back to win a playoff series.
“It was a great win for us,” said Tyronn Lue, who improved to 4-0 in Game 7s of his coaching career. “It showed a lot about our team.”
The fourth-seeded Clippers advanced to the Western Conference semifinals for the second straight year. They'll play the top-seeded Utah Jazz starting Tuesday night in Salt Lake City.
“We showed great resilience,” said Paul George, who scored 22 points. “They pushed us. They definitely got us war-ready. We hung in there, we played for one another, we played hard.”
Luka Doncic had 46 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds to lead the fifth-seeded Mavs, who have yet to win a playoff series since capturing the NBA championship in 2011. He finished the series with 250 points, 55 rebounds and 72 assists.
“Game seven is the toughest game. You’ve got to give it everything,” Doncic said. “We’ve been in the playoffs twice since I’ve been there, lost both times. You get paid to win.”
George added 10 assists and six rebounds for the Clippers. Their backups outscored Dallas' reserves, 27-6, getting crucial contributions from Terance Mann (13 points) and Luke Kennard (11 points). Kennard had played just four minutes earlier in the series.
“They trusted me,” Kennard said. “We trusted each other.”
The Clippers were the league's top 3-point shooting team during the regular season, but struggled at times in the series. They regained their touch in Game 7, making 20 3s, led by Morris' seven. The Mavs hit 10, with Doncic having five.
Trailing by eight at halftime, the Mavs outscored the Clippers 19-6 to open the third and take an 81-76 lead. Doncic had just two points in the run, with Dorian Finney-Smith hitting two 3-pointers and Tim Hardaway Jr. adding another. Finney-Smith finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The Mavs won the first two games at Staples Center before the Clippers tied it up with two wins in Dallas. The Mavs won Game 5 in LA and Leonard powered the Clippers to a road win in Game 6 with a huge fourth quarter.
“We all feel like we should have won the series,” Finney-Smith said. “If anybody come in and say they don’t feel like we should have won, they’re crazy. We just couldn’t win at home.”
The Clippers took control with a 24-4 spurt — including 12 in a row — to lead 100-85 going into the fourth. Morris made three 3-pointers and Kennard hit a pair. Leonard scored seven points, highlighted by a dunk off George's pass. Defensively, Leonard came up with a big block and Mann helped contain Doncic, who had the Mavs' only points over the end of the third.
“Kawhi came with the mentality that he’s going to take this game,” said Reggie Jackson, who added 15 points. “He wasn’t going to be shy about his play at all. Once he got going early, defenses had to change.”
Dallas cut its 19-point deficit early in the fourth to seven points on Doncic's fifth 3-pointer of the game with just under 3 minutes remaining. But the Clippers' own long-range prowess carried them, with Jackson and Morris connecting on back-to-back 3s for a 120-107 lead.
Doncic matched his points total from Game 6 with 29 points in the first half on 10 of 14 shooting.
Leonard is the fourth player in postseason history to have at least 200 total points while shooting at least 60% from the floor in a single series. The last player to do so was Shaquille O'Neal of the Lakers in the 2000 NBA Finals.
Doncic said he and George exchanged jerseys in the locker room afterward. The Mavs lost to the Clippers in six games of the first round in last year's bubble in Florida. “It's tough, when it’s the same rival you obviously don’t want to lose again,” Doncic said.
HE SAID IT
“You just don't get the max deals if you don't work as hard as they do.” — Morris on Leonard and George's work ethic.
Mavericks: Kristaps Porzingis had 16 points and 10 of his 11 rebounds on the defensive glass. ... Hardaway received a Flagrant-1 foul for knocking George to the floor on a drive with 37 seconds left. ... Carlisle dropped to 2-2 in Game 7s of his coaching career.
Clippers: Lue has won his first four Game 7s as a coach. Boston's Red Auerbach won his first eight. ... They had one rebound in the first quarter. ... Markieff Morris of the Lakers chatted up his twin brother Marcus at halftime. “He's telling me to slow down and little things he sees during the game,” Marcus said. “We've been doing that since we were kids.” ... Six-time NBA champion Scottie Pippen and Chiney Ogwumike of the Sparks attended.
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