After finding themselves down 0-2 earlier in the series against a determined Dallas Mavericks display, the LA Clippers have an opportunity to atone for last season’s Game 7 woes this weekend. They have Kawhi Leonard to thank, but the job isn’t over yet.
Leonard shines brightest in elimination game
Matching his playoff career-high with 45 points on 25 shots overnight, Kawhi stepped up when his teammates needed him most.
He kept Luka Doncic quiet (0-of-4 shooting on five possessions) guarding the Mavericks’ best player, continued chipping away at their defence and enjoyed a third quarter explosion.
“It’s just based on the mentality. Definitely, you don’t want to go home. Just something that I had young, always wanting to win the game, to try to exert my will on the floor and my teammates had the same mentality.
So that’s what I tried to [instill] with them now to make sure that we keep fighting, don’t give up, and you never know what could happen. Just have faith, play hard, have fun. That’s all you can do.”Kawhi on his mentality from past experiences, per ESPN
Ty Lue’s men have now won three straight away from home, silencing the 18,000-strong American Airlines Center crowd who threatened to overwhelm proceedings after their players embarked on a 17-5 run, powered by Tim Hardaway Jr – who has excelled in this series.
At 67-60 down, the Clippers needed a response and quickly to avoid being overpowered by the hosts’ momentum.
Kawhi was predictably there and rose to the occasion as a two-time Finals MVP would.
He scored 11 straight points and 17 of his team’s 25 over the quarter, as they kept pace going into that final twelve minutes.
12 more points were logged by Leonard during the subsequent minutes, including a pair of big threes to ice the result despite the Mavs’ insistence on playing until the final shot.
104-97 the final score, we’re headed for a Game 7.
Leonard had 45 points on 18-of-25 shooting, becoming the fourth player in NBA history to score at least 45 points and shoot 70% or better when facing elimination (Jamal Murray, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain).
Doncic alluded to Kawhi’s ability post-game, but there will be a sense of inevitability surrounding how this series has gone long.
Last year’s Denver Nuggets were down 3-1 but kept finding ways to claw their way back against the Clippers before that infamous G7.
Now, the only LA team left standing has a golden opportunity to punch their ticket against the top seeded Utah Jazz.
After already staring at one elimination game, will there be one more twist to the tale now the stakes are the same for both on Sunday?
Picture source: Getty