The Los Angeles Clippers are still alive. After a tough, back-and-forth contest, they escaped with a 104-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6. Now all tied at 3-3, the series will shift back to Los Angeles for Game 7 on Sunday. So far, the road team has won every game in this series, which is the first time that's happened through six games in NBA history.
Kawhi Leonard was unbelievable, putting up 45 points, six rebounds and three assists in one of the best postseason performances of his career. He scored nearly half of the Clippers' points, and hit big shot time and again down the stretch. In particular, he had a pair of nasty step-back 3-pointers that effectively sealed the game.
Luka Doncic went for 29 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists, but while he still put up some good numbers, it wasn't his best performance, especially after the first quarter. The Mavericks got a great game from Tim Hardaway Jr., who finished with 23 points, but they couldn't find enough offense in the fourth quarter.
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Here are some key takeaways from the game:
A playoff masterpiece from Kawhi
Kawhi Leonard was awesome in the first four games of this series, but he struggled in Game 5, as the Clippers lost at home to fall behind 3-2. He more than made up for it on Friday night, however, as he put the team on his back and delivered one of the best postseason performances of his career.
He finished with 45 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals on 18 of 25 from the field. If those sound like outrageous numbers, that's because they are. Leonard tied his playoff career high, and also became just the fourth player in NBA history to put up at least 45 points on 70 percent shooting in an elimination game. The others were Jamal Murray, LeBron James and Wilt Chamberlain.
In the fourth quarter, Leonard was flawless. Down by four coming into the frame, he put up 12 points and didn't miss a shot to lead the Clippers' comeback. Late in the frame, he hit a pair of step-back 3s to put the Clippers out of reach that were some of the best shots by anyone this entire postseason.
You really can't say enough about how well Leonard played in this game. He did everything right on both ends of the floor, and saved the Clippers from another playoff failure. If he can summon anything close to this in Game 7, the Clippers will move on to the second round.
Clippers force only Game 7 of first round
While nearly everyone expected the Clippers to win this matchup, a long series certainly wasn't out of the question considering their penchant for playoff shenanigans and Luka Doncic's brilliance. But even those who saw this going six or seven games couldn't have expected it to play out quite like this.
The Mavericks won Games 1 and 2 on the road to raise the panic levels around the Clippers to new heights. But instead of folding, the Clippers bounced back to take Games 3 and 4 on the road themselves, and even up the series. Then it was the Mavericks' turn for a response, and they went back to Los Angeles to steal Game 5 and take a 3-2 lead. Once again, however, the Clippers stood up with their backs against the ropes, and fought off elimination on Friday night in Game 6.
Now, the series will shift back to Los Angeles for Game 7 on Sunday afternoon. This is the only first-round series that went the distance, and that's not the only distinction. The road team has won the first six games of a series for the first time in NBA history. If that trend continues, it would be a truly stunning way for the Mavericks to advance.
Doncic puts up numbers, but doesn't have best game
If you just looked at the box score from this game, you would see that Luka Doncic put up 29 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists and four steals on 11 of 24 from the field. At a glance, it looks like a typical Doncic outing, but the numbers obscure the fact that he wasn't at his best in this game.
For one, he started racking up points in garbage time, as the Mavericks embarked in a fake comeback. He went 3 of 3 from the field for seven points in the final minute, all of which was meaningless. If you take that out, he went for 22 points on 8 of 21 from the field, which is much less impressive.
He also wasn't as aggressive as he usually is on the offensive end later in the game. Some of that was the Clippers putting Kawhi Leonard on him and sending multiple defenders to get the ball out of his hands. But he also looked a little worn down, though whether that was strictly fatigue or the effects of his neck injury is hard to say.
Furthermore, on the defensive side of the ball, the Clippers picked on him constantly. On one play early in the fourth, he did a good job initially to deny Leonard, but then sort of just gave up and conceded a wide-open mid-range jumper. Later on, the Clippers made a point to get him in switches, and Leonard and Paul George took turns going at him in isolation.
This isn't to say that Doncic was a disaster. He got off to a great start, had his moments throughout the game and is still the Mavericks' best and most important player by some margin. However, to beat a more talented Clippers team, the Mavericks need Doncic at his best, and he wasn't in Game 6.