For the first time in NBA history, the road team has won six games in a best-of-seven series (excluding the neutral site games in last year’s bubble), as the Clippers once again evened their first-round matchup by winning in Dallas.
Here’s how the Clippers forced the first Game 7 of the 2021 NBA playoffs.
Kawhi Leonard was a bad man
Luka Dončić has been the best player in this series thus far, but Leonard firmly wrestled control of that title in Game 6, getting the job done on both ends of the court. Leonard only had three points in the first quarter, but he flipped the switch in a major way, scoring 42 minutes in his subsequent 30 minutes of action.
Leonard had a sense of the moment with his scoring binges. The Clippers had fallen behind by nine in the second quarter after losing the non-Luka minutes, trailing 39-30 with 7:03 to play in the half. At that point, Leonard led a 12-2 run to put L.A. back in front to help the Clippers take a three-point lead into halftime. He had nine of the points, drilling jumpers by elevating over contests and punctuating the run with a putback slam.
The game was getting away for the Clippers again in the third quarter, much like it had in Game 5, with the team trailing 67-60 with 6:31 to play in the period. This time, Leonard went on a personal 11-0 run as his jumper really got going.
Then again, in the fourth, the game was tied at 82, and Leonard went for the kill. Crossovers into midrange jumpers, pull-ups right in the defender’s face, and then two step-back threes to put the game on ice. 45 points on 18-of-25 shooting, the first player since LeBron James to score 45 in an elimination game while shooting 72 percent from the field.
That offensive performance in and of itself would have been enough, but Leonard was also the Clippers’ best defensive player. He was a menace in the halfcourt throughout the game. Leonard’s two steals undersell the havoc he wreaked in the passing lanes with his deflections. He also took the challenge of defending Dončić down the stretch, asking for it himself.
“It takes a lot because Luka has the ball in his hands 90 percent of the time, he’s the head of the snake, he gets everybody involved and scores the basketball,” Ty Lue said about Leonard’s defense. “He puts a lot of pressure on your defense. So like I said, with Kawhi taking that challenge, you know, playing 42 minutes tonight, he didn’t really seem tired.”
The Clippers got Leonard to be the best player on the court in their pursuit of a championship. This was the Leonard the Clippers were hoping for.
That is an all-time great two-way performance from Kawhi Leonard.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) June 5, 2021
Reggie Jackson kept the Clippers alive early
This game definitely felt like an elimination game, and the Clippers were tight early. They were tentative and passing up shots, showing the gravity of the moment in their play. The only player who was ready to go from the jump was Reggie Jackson.
Jackson was on a heater to start, scoring 14 points in the first quarter, more than half of the team’s total in the opening frame. He was incredibly confident in his offense, comfortably launching floaters at the end of the shot clock with the possessions stagnating, isolating for long twos, and busting the zone by taking the open threes. To be clear, these weren’t great shots, but someone had to generate offense. There were possessions when it seemed like no one on the Clippers wanted anything to do with the ball except Jackson, and he did what big government does — he bailed them out. He even led the team in rebounding (four) while committing no turnovers.
Lue was forced to keep Jackson in the game for the entirety of the first quarter just to keep an offensive threat on the court. Leonard and Paul George woke up after the first, but the Clippers might not have even been in position to come back were it not for Jackson’s start.
The Clippers upped their defensive pressure
It was a rough scoring night for the non-Jackson role players. That didn’t stop them from making their marks on the game on the other end of the floor, as Lue said the Clippers’ defense kept them in the game all night long.
Marcus Morris Sr. was tasked with defending Boban Marjanović, and forced the 7’5 Dallas big man into his worst efficiency of the series. Marjanović shot only 5-of-13 from the field as Morris and Nicolas Batum repeatedly pressured him away from the basket.
“Marcus, he only shot 1-for-10 but defensively he was great, wrestling with Boban, blitzing on the pick-and-rolls, which caused Luka to turn the ball over a little bit,” Lue said postgame.
The Clippers collectively did a good job of crashing the glass against a much bigger lineup. Ivica Zubac picked up six rebounds in five minutes of play, and George led both teams with 13 as the two teams finished even on the boards despite Dallas starting two seven-footers.
“PG having 13 rebounds, crashing the boards when we talked about boxing out and hitting these guys because they crash a lot,” Lue said. “Porzingis 7’3, Boban 7’5, (Maxi) Kleber is a big body and (Willie) Cauley-Stein, as well. For PG to go down and get 13 rebounds says a lot about him and the way he’s competing.”