LOS ANGELES – As the 19-point lead for the fourth quarter shrank to seven by two minutes to the end and the anxiety began to spread at the Staples Center, Kawhi Leonard received help he didn’t get last year in Game 7.
Leonard assisted on two straight three points from Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr., sealing the LA Clippers’ 126-111 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of their first series in the Western Conference on Sunday.
Nearly nine months after suffering an embarrassing defeat from Game 7 in the bubble, the Clippers return to the semifinals of the Western Conference to face the top-ranked Utah Jazz, casting out some of their demons in the playoffs. They overcame another spectacular performance by Luka Doncic with 32-6 runs in the second half to qualify for the second round.
This time, the Clippers began their return to the playoffs, preventing elimination by defeating the Mavericks two games in a row.
Leonard and Doncic took part in an incredible match from the first round and the two stars rose on the occasion of game 7. Leonard set the tone for the Clippers again and simply missed a triple-double with 28 points, 1
The Clippers, who also received 22 points and 10 assists from Paul George, finally managed to break through and become the only team to win at home in the entire series. The road team won the first six games of the series, marking the first time in NBA playoff history (excluding last year’s balloon games), according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The clippers entered this game, probably with the feeling that they are fighting in history. They were only 3-5 all the time in Game 7s, entering Sunday, dropping their previous three with an average of 13.7 points per game, according to ESPN Sports & Information.
And of course, they could still feel the horror of last year’s loss to the second round of the Denver Nuggets, in which they brought a 3-1 series lead in a spectacular way.
This embarrassing outcome for a team set up to win a championship has been a driving force that has entered this season. But the Clippers were eliminated in the first two games of the series at home and then lost Game 5 at home again to face elimination in Dallas in Game 6.
Leonard presented perhaps his best versatile performance as a 45-point Clipper and a timely defense of Doncic to force Game 7.
And Leonard opened game 7 with the same intensity, hitting five of his first six shots – including a one-handed thunderbolt – for 13 points in the first quarter. The problem, like the whole series, was Doncic. The Mavericks star, playing in his first game of 7, scored 19 points in the first quarter and made 10 of his first 14 shots in 29 at halftime.
The Clippers led 70-62 at halftime with 13 points from Leonard, George and Terrance Mann.
Dallas opened the second half with a 19-6 run and led 81-76. But Morris (23 points) stood on this occasion. With the Lakers’ Marquis Morris, his twin brother watching from the front row, Marcus Morris buried two of his seven 3-point career points after the season to cause a 32-6 run, giving the Clippers a 108-87 lead of 8: There are 57 left.
Dallas reduced the deficit to 114-107, but Leonard found Jackson and Morris three points to start the celebration at the Staples Center.