The Clippers got an all-time great series out of Kawhi Leonard against Dallas. He averaged 32.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 69 percent on twos, 43 percent on threes, and 89 percent on free throws.
But they wouldn’t have won the matchup without strong performances up and down the roster, and various role players made their mark over the final five contests. In Game 7, it was Luke Kennard’s turn to make his contribution.
Kennard played 10 minutes in Game 6, his first action of the postseason after being a healthy scratch through the first five games. He only scored two points as he missed all three of his 3-point attempts, but Ty Lue saw enough of his overall floor game to know that the fourth-year guard had more to offer.
“The biggest thing that was concerning was the defensive part with Luka on the floor and how they played, but in Game 6, I saw he had great shows on Luka, he was able to guard (Jalen) Brunson,” Lue said Sunday. “Got a big steal down on the floor, and got a steal for us to get out in transition. So I knew defensively he wasn’t going to be a problem.”
Having earned Lue’s trust defensively, Kennard supplanted Rajon Rondo in the rotation, earning the seventh-most minutes on the team. Dallas wasn’t respecting Rondo as a shooter at all, and that’s Kennard’s M.O.
Kennard did exactly what he was supposed to do, draining four of his six shots for 11 points. The Mavericks tried to exploit Kennard in a different way by bringing in Trey Burke, a speedy guard, but Kennard held his own.
“The way that they were playing Kawhi, PG, that’s why they put me out there was just to space the floor a little bit and just be ready to shoot the ball,” Kennard said postgame. “It’s what I do, and I had some good opportunities in Game 6. It gave me a little momentum coming into tonight and just staying ready and you know keeping it locked and loaded. They trusted me. We trust in each other, so whoever has an open shot, we just want to get a good shot and that’s just what we do.”
The Clippers outscored the Mavericks by 14 in Kennard’s minutes, tied for the second-highest plus-minus on the team after Marcus Morris Sr.
Although it may have been surprising to see Kennard on the court in critical minutes after being a non factor for much of the series, it shouldn’t have been. This is the story of the Clippers season: role players needing to step in at a moment’s notice and getting the job done. Whether it was Reggie Jackson filling in for Patrick Beverley in the starting lineup, Patrick Patterson filling in for Serge Ibaka, or Terance Mann/Kennard/Amir Coffey filling in for the star wings during injuries or nights off, every Clipper has had his day in the sun.
Think back to short handed wins against the Hawks, Heat, Grizzlies, and Pistons — the “Canoes” got the job done time and time again. Eight or nine players may see the court on any given night, but it’s the full complement of 17 who are necessary for a full season.
“It just shows a lot about our team, about the resilience, about what we have done all season long,” Lue said postgame. “Luke Kennard and Terance Mann, like I said, playing big games this year because of our injuries and guys being out and for those guys come in and step in to play the way they did was huge for us.”
Kennard and Mann’s production was an emotional lift on an especially tense day. Dorian Finney-Smith said that seeing the bench players step up for L.A. was tough because “they’re points we didn’t account for.”
But the Clippers expected a total team effort, and that’s what they got. It’s the type of production they’ll continue to expect in the next series against a deep Utah squad.
“Hats off to everybody for being ready, especially my man from Duke, Luke; cool hand, playing special, it’s been great,” Jackson said. “Being in the playoffs in Detroit and seeing him mature and being ready for the moment…. T-Mann and Luke, for their minutes to fluctuate the way they have through the season, not necessarily always in the series — coming in and playing big minutes and not being afraid of the moment in Game 7, hats off to them. It’s special and they are just as much a part of this win as everybody. Thankful for them and thankful for what we accomplished. We played a great team in Dallas and we are fortunate to get the win today.”