The LA Clippers had their backs against the wall in Game 6 on Friday of their series against the Dallas Mavericks, but a stunning 2nd half by Kawhi Leonard pushed them to a 104-97 win at American Airlines Center.
Leonard’s 45 points were the headline, but the big story is that the Clippers tie up the series 3-3 and head back to Sunday’s Game 7 in Los Angeles with another must-win game on their plates to extend their season to a new series.
Ty Lue opted for a consistent starting five for this do-or-die game, with Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, Paul George and Reggie Jackson opening the game for the Clippers.
The Mavericks had the better start out of the gate, which has been the story of nearly every game of the series, but the Clippers had legit intensity to open the game and kept it close. After Dallas went ahead 7-3, LA came back to make it 8-7 and the teams started trading baskets and the lead.
Jackson was hot in the 1st quarter, leading the offense with 14 points, scoring in a few different ways.
Luka Doncic also started out well, with 11 points in the 1st quarter, as Dallas led after the first frame, 28-26.
Both teams went to their benches for the start of the 2nd quarter, with the Mavs’ bench sharper, in a trend that contrasted with how the benches had previously performed this season. Luke Kennard, who’s barely featured in the series, got minutes with the 2nd quarter unit.
Leonard started heating up in the 2nd quarter, with the Clippers needing a spark as the Mavs extended their lead.
Kawhi gettin' it going with back-to-back buckets. pic.twitter.com/X6LesIdJMl— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 5, 2021
The rally was successful, as Leonard hit a dunk to take LA ahead 42-41 with just under 3:00 left in the 1st half, although the Mavs immediately regained the lead courtesy of a Kristaps Porzingis dunk at the other end.
But Leonard hit two baskets in the final minute of the half, and the Clippers led 48-45 as the teams went into halftime. It was a fairly shaggy half for LA, admittedly, but they were still very much in the game.
The 2nd half started in high-octane fashion for both teams again, as they traded the lead to open the 3rd quarter. But the Mavericks hit a run and started hitting all their shots, seemingly, while forcing turnovers from the Clippers. Dallas took a seven-point edge, but thank goodness for Leonard, who hit a couple timely buckets to narrow the deficit to two points and hold off the Mavs from taking the game and series once and for all.
LA regained the lead, but it was shortlived, as the Mavericks had another rally to close out the 3rd quarter, and they ended with a 77-73 lead, the Clippers with one quarter to keep their season alive.
Kennard got a basket a few minutes into the 4th quarter, which was the Clippers bench’s first points of the night, to give you a sense of how topsy-turvy the game was from an LA perspective.
After that, Ivica Zubac hit two timely free throws to give the Clips a 79-77 lead. George started finding a rhythm, finally, in the final stanza for the Clippers, but it was a seesaw battle as the teams continued to hand off the lead down the stretch.
George and Leonard hit back-to-back jumpers to give LA a three-point edge midway through the 4th quarter, and then Batum scored on an alley-oop after a stop on the Mavs, as the Clippers grinded and sought to close out the game.
But there was a lot of basketball to be played. Doncic hit a 3-pointer, his first of the night, coming out of the timeout, the Clippers leading by two.
Leonard hit another jumper with 3:00 left to extend the lead to four points, and then Tim Hardaway Jr’s drive didn’t fall at the other end. Leonard then did a clearout with Doncic guarding him, and buried a 3 with 2:18 to go, the Clippers up seven points and Leonard racking up 42 points in the game.
Doncic scored to make it 95-90, but Leonard hit another 3-pointer to make it an eight-point Clippers lead. It was pretty much over at that point, with the Mavs getting quick baskets and the Clippers going to the foul line with Dallas trying to extend the game.
In addition to Leonard’s monster night, Jackson had a terrific game, with 25 points, and George had a double-double. Add in clutch plays from Batum and good team defense overall, and that put Leonard in a position to take the game over. He did, and they rode it to victory.
So, Sunday is the big day, the Clippers get another Game 7, and in a series in which the road team has won the first six, going back to Staples Center may not be the good omen they would usually consider it to be. But it is what it is, as the old cliché goes, and they’ve taken the series to the brink. They need to win again on Sunday to make everything that came before count. Buckle up.