After a grueling seven-game series, the Los Angeles Clippers have clinched their spot in the Western Conference semifinals with a 126-111 victory over the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on Sunday afternoon.
As we have seen him do over the course of his career, Kawhi Leonard put the Clippers on his back on both ends of the floor to help put Los Angeles in a position to pull away from Luka Doncic and the Mavericks in the second half as they used a 24-4 run to close the third quarter to really open things up. While Dallas made a run in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to seven points, Los Angeles had just enough answers down the stretch to finish the job and win the series.
With the win, Los Angeles advances to face the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals with Game 1 of that best-of-seven series scheduled for Tuesday night.
Here are four key takeaways from the game:
1. Clippers survive and advance
When the Clippers lost the first two games of this series at home, it was pretty easy to start firing up the same old narratives about this team's playoff history. And even more so after they dropped Game 5 at home as well. After all, they blew a 3-1 lead in the second round just last season, and have never made the conference finals in franchise history.
But streaks are made to be broken, and narratives can always be rewritten. After their Game 7 win on Sunday afternoon, the Clippers are well on their way to doing just that. Perhaps it was fitting that after their collapses in past postseasons, the Clippers were the ones who battled back from significant deficits in this series. The jury is still out on their ability to win a title, but any questions about their toughness and will to win have been answered.
Now, they're on to face the No. 1 overall seed, the Utah Jazz, in the second round. It will be a quick turnaround, as Game 1 of that series is set for Tuesday night in Salt Lake City. The Clippers went 1-2 against the Jazz in the regular season, but one of those losses was without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
2. Morris leads huge night from Clippers' role players
As expected, Kawhi Leonard was terrific in this game, going for 28 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals in an all-around clinic. Paul George, meanwhile, had a bit of a rough shooting night, but still finished with 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.
But while those two were a big factor in the Clippers getting the win, they also got a ton of help from their supporting cast. Marcus Morris, in particular, was tremendous. He tied a career-high with seven 3-pointers and finished with 23 points in what was by far his best game of the series. His strong shooting from beyond the arc helped the Clippers shred the Mavericks' zone defense.
In addition to Morris, the Clippers also got 15 points from Reggie Jackson, 13 points from Terance Mann and 11 points from Luke Kennard. With Mann and Kennard leading the way, the Clippers' bench outscored the Mavericks' reserve unit 27-6.
3. Clippers turn in historic 3-point shooting performance
In the first three games of this series, the Mavericks could hardly miss from 3-point land, knocking down 55-of-109 attempts. That hot shooting was a big reason. they were able to jump in front, but they probably wish they could have saved some of those makes for Game 7.
Along with the big advantage in bench scoring, the Clippers also destroyed the Mavericks from behind the arc on Sunday. While the Mavericks struggled to a 10-of-36 outing, the Clippers went 20-of-43 and set a new NBA record for 3s made in a Game 7 in the process.
Led by Marcus Morris, who knocked down seven 3s to nearly match the Mavericks' total by himself, the Clippers had eight different players make a shot from outside in this game.
4. Doncic's brilliant run comes to an end
This was just the second trip to the playoffs for Luka Doncic, but you would never have known that with the way he played in this series. He was arguably the best player over the seven games, and put in another valiant effort in Game 7, finishing with 46 points for a new playoff career-high, seven rebounds and 14 assists on 17-of-30 from the field. He either scored or assisted on 77 of the Mavericks' 111 points, which set a new NBA record for a Game 7.
For the series, he put up 35.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 10.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game, while shooting 49 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from the 3-point line. He also played a whopping 40.1 minutes per game, and shouldered an incredible load on the offensive end. Over the seven games, he either scored or assisted on 161 of the Mavericks' 274 baskets, which is just a staggering number.
If there was any area to criticize him, it's that he struggled from the free throw line -- 52.9 percent -- and seemed to run out of gas at the end of some games. The former is less of an issue considering he's been a solid free throw shooter over his career, and the latter is more due to the fact that he was doing literally everything for the Mavs -- though perhaps he could get in better shape.
That's nitpicking, though, and overall Doncic was excellent. He went toe-to-toe with one of the best players in the league, and nearly led an overmatched Mavericks team to a huge upset. It goes without saying, but this won't be the last we see of Doncic in the postseason.