DALLAS — Kawhi Leonard tied his playoff career high with 45 points and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks 104-97 on Friday night, forcing a Game 7 in the first postseason series in NBA history with the road team winning the first six games.
The Clippers won for the third time in front of a raucous Dallas crowd more than three times bigger than any during the regular season, this time in a tense finish after the first two LA road victories were by double digits.
The victory gives Leonard and Paul George their first chance to eliminate the team they beat in six games in the Florida playoff bubble last August. Game 7 is Sunday in Los Angeles.
Luka Doncic scored 29 points but was just 2 of 9 from 3-point range as the LA defense turned up the pressure in key moments and held Dallas to 29% shooting in the fourth quarter. Tim Hardaway Jr. had 23 points but missed a 3-pointer and a layup in the closing minutes.
After coming home with a 2-0 series lead and losing twice, the Mavericks lost a close-out game for just the second time in seven games under coach Rick Carlisle.
The Mavericks were down 90-88 when Maxi Kleber missed an open corner 3. Leonard scored the next eight LA points, including back-to-back 3-pointers for a 98-90 lead with 1:41 remaining.
A night after the other Los Angeles team was eliminated when LeBron James and the Lakers lost to Phoenix, the Clippers trailed for long stretches before going in front for good with six minutes left on a jumper by George, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Reggie Jackson scored 14 of his 25 points in the first quarter to help keep LA close early, while Doncic’s European sidekick, Kristaps Porzingis, was a nonfactor with seven points on just seven shots in 31 minutes.
The biggest lead for either team from the middle of the second quarter to the end of the third was a seven-point Dallas edge in the third.
The Clippers erased that deficit quickly with their best defensive intensity of the game to that point, sparking an 11-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from Leonard.
LA left Dorian Finney-Smith open for a 3-pointer that helped Dallas go back in front, and the Mavericks later scored the final five points of the third for a 77-73 lead.
Clippers: Serge Ibaka missed his fourth consecutive game with back spasms. The issue kept him out of 30 straight games in the regular season before he played the final two games leading into the playoffs and the first two in this series. Ibaka made the trip for Game 5 after staying in LA for the first two games in Dallas. … After Leonard, Jackson and George, the next-highest LA scorer was Nicolas Batum with six.
Mavericks: Carlisle’s only other close-out loss as coach of the Mavericks was in Game 7 at San Antonio in the first round in 2014, when the Mavericks weren’t expected to last that long. … Boban Marjanovich scored 12 points as Dallas went with a big lineup again.
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