The clock ticked away as the Los Angeles Clippers inched nearer both to elimination or survival. Yet, Kawhi Leonard stood calmly whereas holding the ball and finally dictating the Clippers’ fortunes.
Not solely did Leonard seem comfy with the strain of getting the ball in his palms, he additionally appeared comfy with who defended him. Leonard needed 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 Game 6 win over the Mavericks on Friday to tie the first-round collection at 3-Three and force a decisive Game 7 on Sunday at Staples Center. 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 game,” Doncic stated. “That’s what he does.”
That’s not all that Leonard does, although. Doncic would know.
Leonard grew to become the sixth participant in NBA historical past in the course of the shot clock period to attain a minimum of 45 factors on 72% capturing in a playoff sport. 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 saw one of the best, if not the best, two-way players at his best,” Clippers ahead Paul George stated. “It was fun to watch.”
It certain was.
Leonard scored 42 of the Clippers’ closing 68 factors. During 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). Meanwhile, Doncic’s effectivity fluctuated. After scoring 11 first-quarter factors on 4-of-Eight capturing, Doncic grew to become 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-Eight 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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“Great players perform in big moments,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue stated. “He took on the challenge with guarding Luka the whole game, and I thought the coverages were great. That shows you who Kawhi Leonard is.”
It additionally exhibits you who Leonard is when he resisted bragging about his personal play.
“Luka still played a pretty good game,” Leonard stated. “He’s a very dominant player and very skilled. He plays at his own pace. All I can do is stay in front of him as much as possible, contest his shots and try not to put him to the line.”
Leonard fulfilled that job description nicely. According to NBA.com’s monitoring knowledge, 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 collection.
Yet, 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. But with the Clippers’ fixed trapping solely having blended success, Lue stated that Leonard requested to defend the Mavs star in Game 6.
“I want to attack everybody on the floor no matter who’s in front of me,” Leonard stated. “Whoever the matchup is. I can’t have an indecisive mind out there. If I feel like I have an angle and they’re giving me something, then I attack it.”
How issues modified so dramatically for Leonard between Games 5 and 6.
With Doncic feeling more healthy from neck and shoulder accidents, he had 42 factors in Game 5 whereas capturing 17-of-37 from the sphere and 6-of-12 from 3-point vary. Meanwhile, 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’ Game 7 elimination loss to Denver in final 12 months’s postseason after holding a 3-1 collection lead. After all, he already has received two NBA championships. He additionally posted 45 factors in Game 1 of the 2019 Eastern Conference semifinals in opposition to Philadelphia. He has grow to be used to high-stakes moments.
“You definitely don’t want to go home. That’s something that I had — always wanting to win the game and trying to exert my will on the floor,” Leonard stated. “My teammates had the same mentality. That’s what I try to instill with them to make sure we keep fighting and don’t give up. You never know what can happen. Just have faith and go out and have fun.”
When the Clippers struggled stopping the Mavericks’ game-long runs with periodic capturing slumps and sloppy play, Lue noticed that Leonard typically calmed his teammates down on the court docket 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 give you something; just keep going.” George finally ended with 20 factors and 13 rebounds. Reggie Jackson added 25 factors. But many of the motion centered on Leonard, who loved making a dagger shot over Doncic after spending a lot of the evening stopping him from doing the identical.
“Trusting my teammates and trusting in myself,” Leonard stated. “As the game went on, I got to some spots and make some shots. My teammates found me. I just tried to go with the rhythm and stay in with the rhythm and mindset that I had. I didn’t want to go home. I kept that momentum and faith all night.”