Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the Los Angeles Clippers inched one step closer to their ultimate goal Sunday afternoon. The Clippers defeated Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series and advanced to the second round, where they’ll take on either the Utah Jazz or Denver Nuggets.
Kawhi Leonard had yet another masterful and efficient game for the Clippers with 33 points on 14-of-24 shooting from the field. He did more than just score, adding in 14 rebounds, seven assists, and five steals. The Clippers led by as many as 23 in the third quarter before the Mavs rallied back to within six. Leonard, however, would not let the Clippers lose, finding his teammates and nailing his patented mid-range jumper that has almost become automatic.
All season long, the Clippers have been building toward this postseason run they hope will end in a championship. While anything short of a title will be considered a failure, Leonard and the Clippers are allowing themselves to enjoy this one.
“You always celebrate,” Kawhi Leonard said after the game. “You could be going home right now. It’s one step closer to where we want to get to, so it’s a good accomplishment that we got through the first round. Now we enjoy it tonight and we get ready for the next thing tomorrow. That’s how it pretty much is. You always want to enjoy a win. You never want to take that away, I don’t know why you want to take that away.”
Many wondered if Kawhi Leonard from the 2019 postseason could return, and the answer was a resounding yes. Leonard finished the series averaging 32.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 2.3 steals per game on 53.8% shooting from the field.
After calling Leonard the most reliable player in the NBA, Paul George said it’s nothing new to him.
“Kawhi is a man of business. He stepped up. He stepped in. I mean, time after time, you know, whenever we needed him, he put us on his back. He finished the series. I can’t say it enough. I mean, after the series, he is the most reliable guy. It’s his shotmaking, just his time on just awareness plays, he’s just one of a kind.”
All year, the Clippers had been plagued with injuries, but everyone thought they’d figure it out when the playoffs arrived and it would be smooth sailing. That didn’t happen as quickly as everyone would’ve liked. LA and Dallas exchanged wins and losses throughout the first five games. After the first four, both teams had a case that could’ve been made for sweeping the other, and the idea of the Clippers having the better team became a bit shaky.
“I thought we grew through the series,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “You know, a little bit of adversity early on was very good for us. We didn’t have any of that all year. I look at that as good, positive growth. And then I thought our guys really started focusing in on the last two games, especially with the different schemes and timeouts. Rex [Kalamian] and Ty [Lue] did a great job, every timeout, we tried to show them a different look and I thought it was effective.”
Despite not having Marcus Morris for the final three quarters or Patrick Beverley since Game 1, the Clippers were far more individually talented and were also able to keep some of the Mavs at bay throughout the six-game series.
“I didn’t think we played well, quite honestly, for the first three games, and yet we still were 2-1. You know, I thought we joined the series late. I thought our intensity joined the playoff intensity late. I thought our execution gradually got better.”
The clear-cut deciding factor for the Mavs is Luka Doncic. Even with Kristaps Porzingis healthy, there’s a good chance the Mavs wouldn’t have taken the series, but Doncic put up one heck of a fight even though he was outmanned.
“I think I was on board with Luka a long time ago,” Doc Rivers added. “I think two years ago, his rookie year, I had a man-crush on him. It’s grown. He’s just a terrific player. I love his toughness. We made it hard for him these last two games and he just kept going. I was waiting for him to get tired, you know, but didn’t. He just kept playing. Just crazy respect for him as a player. I love his play for the great joy, and I love that, as well.”
Doncic was fantastic in the postseason against the Clippers, averaging 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 8.7 assists during the playoffs. That included a game-winning buzzer-beater over Reggie Jackson in Game 4.
“Dallas, even though you never want to have a great opponent, they are the most efficient offensive team in league history,” Rivers admitted. “They are a hell of an organization. They have got a great coach and they have Luka and great scoring, so for us, they presented all those challenges.”
The series was hard-fought and included a number of altercations, technical fouls, as well as ejections, mainly between Marcus Morris and Luka Doncic. Morris and Doncic were involved in another exchange after a hard foul by Morris sent Doncic to the ground early in Game 6. Morris was ejected immediately for what felt like his daily scheduled run-in with Doncic.
“He’s a young player, he’s going to be the face of the league in a while, I’ve taken into account of all that,” Morris said regarding his ejection and hard fouls on Doncic. I have been around for a while, I know how this thing works. If it was anybody else, I don’t think it would be taken out of context that way. It is what it is. I am a grown man. I stand on my own. Like I said, I didn’t mean to step on his ankle. They can say the stuff that they want to say, this and that, on Twitter, whatever … whatever they want to say, they can say it, I am going to continue to play, happy that my team is in the second round.”
Morris isn’t facing a suspension at the moment, and he also doesn’t believe he should moving forward.
“Honestly, I don’t think it escalated to that level. It is not like I didn’t touch any of the ball. I didn’t wind up, I didn’t do any of that. It was a hard foul [to prevent] an and-1. Unfortunately, I hit him above the shoulders and that is the rule in the NBA: you go above the shoulder, it becomes a Flagrant 2. But nah, I don’t think so, I hope not. Guys are playing hard and we are sacrificing. I don’t think these guys should sit nobody out, especially for games of these caliber.”
Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers will take on either the Utah Jazz or Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals starting on Thursday night. Doc Rivers says he’s hoping to get Patrick Beverley back in time for Game 1, and the few practices leading up to the game will be telling.