Kawhi Leonard took the first step toward a championship with a third different franchise.
Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers took a 1-0 lead in their first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks with a 118-110 victory in Monday's Game 1 at Walt Disney World Resort.
It was more of the same for the Clippers considering they swept the Mavericks in three regular-season matchups, one of which happened during the seeding games in the bubble.
Leonard and Paul George made sure that dominance continued with impressive showings, while Luka Doncic led the way in defeat for Dallas after Kristaps Porzingis was ejected in the third quarter.
Notable Player Stats
- Kawhi Leonard, F, LAC: 29 PTS, 12 REB, 6 AST, 3 STL, 11-of-21 FG
- Paul George, F, LAC: 27 PTS, 3 AST, 2 STL, 10-of-22 FG, 4-of-11 3PT
- Marcus Morris Sr., F, LAC: 19 PTS, 6 REB, 4 STL, 8-of-13 FG, 3-of-6 3PT
- Luka Doncic, G, DAL: 42 PTS, 9 AST, 7 REB, 3 STL, 11 TO, 13-of-21 FG, 2-of-6 3PT
- Kristaps Porzingis, F, DAL: 14 PTS, 6 REB
- Tim Hardaway Jr., G, DAL: 18 PTS, 6 REB, 7-of-16 FG, 4-of-11 3PT
Mavericks' Resilient Comeback Effort Cut Short by Stunning Call
Dallas couldn't have scripted a worse start to the playoffs.
The Clippers scored the opening 10 points of the game and 18 of the first 20. Doncic turned it over five times in the opening quarter with Patrick Beverley hounding him and then went to the locker room with an apparent leg injury.
It would have been easy for the Mavericks to go through the motions and assume defeat from there against the powerhouse Clippers, but Doncic returned and the team caught fire on the way to a double-digit lead by the second quarter.
It was Doncic doing most of the work by adjusting and reading L.A.'s aggressive defense, patiently attacking openings, hitting Seth Curry and other shooters for outside looks and forcing Beverley into foul trouble.
Dallas absorbed every Clippers blow and still had plenty of momentum with a five-point lead in the third quarter when Porzingis was ejected for picking up a second technical foul. It was a questionable call at best, as Marcus Morris Sr. grabbed Doncic and was jawing with him before Porzingis came over and gave a slight shove while protecting his team's best player.
The whistle drew resounding criticism, including a reaction from LeBron James:
Having no Porzingis on the floor made it easier for the Clippers to focus more defensive attention on Doncic, although Dallas deserves credit for fighting into the fourth quarter.
If there is any silver lining for the Mavericks, it is the fact that they were right there with the championship contender before the ejection and will have an opportunity to draw even in Game 2, but it is still surely a difficult loss to swallow.
Kawhi Leads Balanced Clippers Attack
Nobody on the Clippers roster understands how to navigate the grind of a championship run better than Leonard, who is coming off a title with the Toronto Raptors and won another with the San Antonio Spurs.
There will be times when the Clippers need him to take over for extended stretches, but he was part of a balanced effort in the team's first playoff game.
He did a little bit of everything by attacking the lane, facilitating when defenders collapsed on him and setting the tone on defense for a group that forced 21 turnovers, but George, Morris, Lou Williams and Ivica Zubac all chipped in as well.
Zubac notched a double-double while battling inside as Montrezl Harrell worked his way back into the lineup, Williams provided a spark off the bench with multiple three-pointers and George fought through some early shooting struggles to provide timely scoring for the victors.
George's three with less than a minute remaining essentially ended Dallas' realistic comeback hopes.
The Clippers are arguably the deepest team in the league, and they showed off some of their depth in a game that was largely overshadowed by the officiating.
Game 2 of the series is Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.