Clippers eye third win of series vs. Mavs without Kawhi Leonard

By Thomson Reuters Apr 30, 2024 | 2:49 PM

As James Harden turns back the clock, the Los Angeles Clippers are alive and well in a first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks.

Game 5 is set for Wednesday at Los Angeles.

The best-of-seven series is tied at two wins apiece, but the path to get there has been anything but conventional. The teams split a pair of games at Los Angeles and another two at Dallas, with the Clippers forced into an alternate reality as Kawhi Leonard deals with knee inflammation.

Leonard already has been ruled out for Game 5, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue confirmed on Tuesday.

When the Clippers won Game 1 without Leonard, the presumption was they would be off and running with their star returning for Game 2. But Los Angeles has lost both games with an ailing Leonard on the floor and won the two when he did not play.

Leonard returned to the bench for Game 4 with knee soreness so the Clippers leaned into their outside shooting early to take a 31-point lead in the second quarter. Los Angeles’ win came after it held off a furious Dallas rally led by Kyrie Irving, while receiving 15 points in the fourth quarter from Harden.

“My mindset coming to this team was just doing whatever it takes to win and get to the end goal,” Harden said. .”.. Game 1, we knew Kawhi was out, and (we) had to be more aggressive. (Sunday), we knew Kawhi would be out, and (we) had to be more aggressive. So, it’s pretty simple for me.”

The Clippers made eight first-quarter shots from 3-point range and went 14 of 21 (66.7 percent) from distance in the first half. The Mavericks stormed back to lead 105-104 with 2:15 remaining on an Irving layup, but the Clippers had enough down the stretch to even the series.

“It’s what this is about, just trying to put the team on your shoulders and make plays when it matters,” said the Clippers’ Paul George, who tied Harden for Clippers’ high-scoring honors in Game 4 with 33 points.

.”.. (Harden) was special down the stretch; he found something. (Irving) as well. Ky is just lethal; he’s deadly. But it came down to both teams trying to make plays to give a team a chance to win.”

The Mavericks are dealing with their own injury issues as Luka Doncic is playing through a right knee sprain, though he is listed as probable for Game 5. His physical limitations showed in Game 4 as he went 1 of 9 from 3-point range and yet he still gutted out a triple-double with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Another theme for the Mavericks in both of their losses in the series has been large early deficits. The Clippers had a 27-point lead in the first half of their Game 1 victory after shooting 6 of 8 from 3-point range in the first quarter.

Irving did his best to overcome the team’s early struggles in Game 4 with 24 second-half points and 14 in the fourth quarter alone.

“This has been consistent in the series where Kawhi doesn’t play and we’re dealing with Paul George and James Harden going off,” Irving said. “We learned from the first time, but I guess we needed to go through it a second time as a team.”

With Leonard out for Game 5, the Mavericks will be looking at the same scenario a third time.

“I have to help (Irving) more,” said Doncic, who admitted that his knee was hurting. “I feel like I am letting him down so I have to be there. … He’s giving everything that he has. He’s been amazing for us the whole series.”

–Field Level Media