With the game and the Clippers’ season on the line — just more than three minutes remaining and the Clippers up two in a close-out game against the Mavericks — Kawhi Leonard pointed out the pick he wanted, forcing a switch to face Luka Doncic one-on-one.
Leonard faked a drive, pulled up, and drained a 21-foot jumper over Doncic to put the Clippers up four.
After Tim Hardaway Jr. missed a shot at the rim on the other end, Leonard came down and again isolated against Doncic. This time, Leonard drained a 3-pointer over him.
On the following Clippers possession, Leonard drained a 3 over Hardaway. At that point, Leonard had scored eight straight and Clippers were up eight — and had full control of the game.
“He destroyed us,” Doncic said of Leonard. “That’s what it is. He had a hell of a game. And that’s what he does.”
Leonard tied his career playoff high with 45 points and took charge in the final minutes, helping the Clippers pull away from the Mavericks for a 104-97 win. That evens their first-round series at 3-3 — the home team has yet to win a game in this series — with Game 7 Sunday in Los Angeles.
Leonard had the most Leonard of responses when asked if he went after Doncic late because he saw the Mavericks’ star as tired.
Me: Did you notice Luka Doncic was tired and tried to attack him more late?
Kawhi Leonard: "I wanna attack everybody on the floor, don't matter who's in front of me."#Clippers pic.twitter.com/5drFnrRoBu
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) June 5, 2021
The Clippers cranked up their defense on Doncic in this game, throwing more double teams his way and largely trying to get the ball out of his hands. Leonard defending Doncic for long stretches was part of that. It seemed to have an impact, Doncic scored 29 points but was just 2-of-9 from 3.
This game was close much of the way, largely staying within 10 points, although Dallas led most of it. Reggie Jackson kept the Clippers in it early with 14 points in the first quarter (he had 25 on the night), but Dallas had its own strong stretch early in the second quarter going +5 in the minutes Doncic was on the bench.
Leonard has been impressive all series, scoring 30.4 points per game and playing elite defense. Despite that, Doncic was the best player in the series, at least up until Friday night — the Mavs playmaker had controlled the flow of games.
Dallas will need to get back to that, the control that had them ahead 2-0 and 3-2 in the series.
Now it all comes down to one game. The winner advances, loser is headed to an offseason with a lot of questions.