The clock ticked away because the Los Angeles Clippers inched nearer both to elimination or survival. But, Kawhi Leonard stood calmly whereas holding the ball and finally dictating the Clippers’ fortunes.
Not solely did Leonard seem snug with the stress of getting the ball in his arms, he additionally appeared snug with who defended him. Leonard wished to match up with Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic. So after receiving his want, Leonard jab-stepped after which drilled a step-back 3-pointer over an off-balanced Doncic.
The play captured how Leonard led the Clippers to a 104-97 Recreation 6 win over the Mavericks on Friday to tie the first-round sequence at 3-3 and drive a decisive Recreation 7 on Sunday at Staples Heart. Leonard tied his playoff profession excessive with 45 factors, whereas capturing 18-of-25 from the sphere and 5-of-9 from 3-point vary. And Leonard’s 27-footer over Doncic proved to be the dagger shot, which gave the Clippers a 95-88 cushion with 2:20 left.
“He destroyed us. He had a hell of a recreation,” Doncic stated. “That’s what he does.”
That’s not all that Leonard does, although. Doncic would know.
Leonard turned the sixth participant in NBA historical past throughout the shot clock period to attain no less than 45 factors on 72% capturing in a playoff recreation. He did so whereas primarily guarding Doncic, whose 29 factors required loads of effort from the sphere (11-of-24) and from deep (2-of-9).
“You noticed among the best, if not the most effective, two-way gamers at his greatest,” Clippers ahead Paul George stated. “It was enjoyable to observe.”
It positive was.
Leonard scored 42 of the Clippers’ ultimate 68 factors. Throughout that stretch, Leonard shot effectively from the sphere (17-of-22), from deep (5-of-8) and from the free-throw line (3-of-3). In the meantime, Doncic’s effectivity fluctuated. After scoring 11 first-quarter factors on 4-of-8 capturing, Doncic turned much less efficient within the second (4 factors on 1-of-3) and third (two factors on 1-of-5 capturing). Doncic rebounded within the fourth quarter (12 factors on 5-of-8 capturing), however Leonard made up for that with 12 factors of his personal whereas making all 5 of his makes an attempt.
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“Nice gamers carry out in huge moments,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue stated. “He took on the problem with guarding Luka the entire recreation, and I assumed the coverages had been nice. That reveals you who Kawhi Leonard is.”
It additionally reveals you who Leonard is when he resisted bragging about his personal play.
“Luka nonetheless performed a reasonably good recreation,” Leonard stated. “He’s a really dominant participant and really expert. He performs at his personal tempo. All I can do is keep in entrance of him as a lot as potential, contest his pictures and take a look at to not put him to the road.”
Leonard fulfilled that job description properly. In response to NBA.com’s monitoring information, Leonard has held Doncic to 22 factors on 9-of-24 from the sphere (37.5%) and 4-of-13 from 3-point vary (30.8%) within the sequence.
But, Lue resisted assigning Leonard on Doncic an excessive amount of in earlier video games to withstand foul bother and ease his workload in order that it doesn’t compromise his scoring. However with the Clippers’ fixed trapping solely having combined success, Lue stated that Leonard requested to defend the Mavs star in Recreation 6.
“I need to assault all people on the ground irrespective of who’s in entrance of me,” Leonard stated. “Whoever the matchup is. I can’t have an indecisive thoughts on the market. If I really feel like I’ve an angle and so they’re giving me one thing, then I assault it.”
How issues modified so dramatically for Leonard between Video games 5 and 6.
With Doncic feeling more healthy from neck and shoulder accidents, he had 42 factors in Recreation 5 whereas capturing 17-of-37 from the sphere and 6-of-12 from 3-point vary. In the meantime, Leonard had solely 20 factors whereas capturing 7-of-19 from the sphere and 1-of-7 from deep. He additionally air-balled a possible game-tying 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left.
That didn’t rattle Leonard. Nor did Leonard’s 14-point efficiency on 6-of-22 capturing within the Clippers’ Recreation 7 elimination loss to Denver in final yr’s postseason after holding a 3-1 sequence lead. In any case, he already has received two NBA championships. He additionally posted 45 factors in Recreation 1 of the 2019 Japanese Convention semifinals in opposition to Philadelphia. He has develop into used to high-stakes moments.
“You positively don’t need to go residence. That’s one thing that I had — all the time eager to win the sport and attempting to exert my will on the ground,” Leonard stated. “My teammates had the identical mentality. That’s what I attempt to instill with them to verify we maintain combating and don’t hand over. You by no means know what can occur. Simply have religion and exit and have enjoyable.”
When the Clippers struggled stopping the Mavericks’ game-long runs with periodic capturing slumps and sloppy play, Lue noticed that Leonard usually calmed his teammates down on the courtroom and within the huddles. George, Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo adopted go well with.
So throughout Leonard’s scoring outburst, George relayed telling him, “collectively we’re going to offer you one thing; simply maintain going.” George finally ended with 20 factors and 13 rebounds. Reggie Jackson added 25 factors. However many of the motion centered on Leonard, who loved making a dagger shot over Doncic after spending numerous the night time stopping him from doing the identical.
“Trusting my teammates and trusting in myself,” Leonard stated. “As the sport went on, I obtained to some spots and make some pictures. My teammates discovered me. I simply tried to go together with the rhythm and keep in with the rhythm and mindset that I had. I didn’t need to go residence. I stored that momentum and religion all night time.”
This text initially appeared on USA TODAY: Clippers drive Recreation 7 as Kawhi Leonard destroys Mavericks