Kawhi Leonard was at his best both ways as the Clippers won Game 6
There was no better way to put it. Asked about Kawhi Leonard’s performance in the Clippers’ win over the Mavericks on Friday night, Dallas star Luka Doncic offered a short, but extremely precise answer.
“I mean, he destroyed us,” Doncic said. “That’s what it is. He had one hell of a game. That’s what he does.”
Leonard was surgical in Los Angeles’ 104-97 win, scoring 45 points on 18 of 25 shots with six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 42 minutes of action. He just became the fourth player in NBA playoff history score 45 points while shooting at least 70 percent of the field in the face of elimination.
The two-time NBA Finals MVP struck big after blow in the second half, refusing to let Doncic and the Mavs send his team off into the offseason.
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However, it wasn’t just Leonard’s brutal efficiency that made the difference. He accepted the challenge of being the main defender against Doncic, who still scored 29 points and distributed 11 assists but had to work for his offense (11 of 24 from the field, 2 of 9 of 3 points).
“Great players play at great times”, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He was huge, man, rising to the challenge, guarding Luka the whole game…. Played 42 minutes and kept their best player. He was a hell of a player for the whole game. It just shows you who Kawhi Leonard is. . “
The work is not yet finished, of course. The Clippers must now defeat the Mavericks in Game 7 if they are to advance to the conference semifinals, which is no small feat considering Doncic’s brilliance and the fact that for the first time times in NBA playoff history, the road team has won the first six games in the series.
Los Angeles will be looking to exorcise the demons of last season’s playoffs when it blew up a 3-1 lead over Denver in the “bubble” and became the laughing stock of the NBA. Paul George has had the worst of the ridiculous, but Leonard was a big part of that collapse, scoring 14 of 40 in the last two losses of the 2019-20 season. Leonard competed in a legendary championship race with the Raptors, but he has struggled in clutch moments since joining the Clippers in 2019, including one ugly air ball at the end of game 5.
There weren’t any such difficulties in Game 6. Los Angeles will need this version of Leonard once again, and Lue expects to see him on Sunday.
“We’re going to rely on Kawhi a lot because he’s been there,” Lue said. “He understands what it takes. Just his balance and his approach, everything will be fine.”