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Kawhi Leonard delivers in clutch as LA Clippers force Game 7 against Mavs

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Kawhi Leonard treated Friday night like a Game 7 and it showed, from wanting to guard Luka Doncic to matching his playoff career-high with 45 points.

With the LA Clippers‘ season and title hopes on the line, Leonard delivered arguably his finest all-around performance as a Clipper to help L.A. beat the Dallas Mavericks for a third straight time at American Airlines Center and take Game 6, 104-97, before an announced crowd of 18,234.

“It’s just based on the mentality,” Leonard said. “Definitely, you don’t want to go home.”

Not including last season’s bubble games, this was the first time in NBA playoff history that the road team has won the first six games of a series, according to data from ESPN Stats and Information.

In one of his best playoff performances, Leonard made 18 of 25 shots and scored 12 of his 45 points in the fourth quarter. He scored eight straight points in a little over a minute late in the fourth to force a Game 7.

“I mean, he destroyed us,” Doncic said. “That’s what it is. He had a hell of a game. And that’s what he does.”

Facing elimination, the Clippers felt the pressure of their season and title hopes on the line with the possibility of suffering a second straight disappointing postseason. But unlike when they blew a 3-1 lead in the second round to the Denver Nuggets in embarrassing fashion last year, the Clippers played with the type of urgency and fight that they needed to force their second straight Game 7.

“It was a Game 7 before the Game 7 for us,” said Paul George, who scored 20 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and had six assists.

Leonard set the tone for the Clippers from the opening tip. Ty Lue said they discussed putting Leonard on Doncic and that his star forward wanted the tall task. Doncic, who came into the game averaging 35 points in the series, finished with 29 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds, but he shot just 11-of-24 and 2-of-9 from behind the arc as the Clippers trapped him at times off screens and kept defenders on him more than switching.

Leonard held all Mavericks he defended to a total of 11 points and 4-for-13 shooting. Doncic shot just 2-for-6 when guarded by Leonard, according to data from ESPN Stats and Information.

“He was doing everything to stop, making it tough on the other end,” George said. “You saw one of the best, if not the best two-way players at his best.”

Dallas led 82-79 with 9:06 left, but Leonard turned it around. When the Clippers were clinging to a two-point lead, Leonard drilled a 21-foot pull-up jumper. After grabbing a rebound, Leonard buried a 27-foot step-back 3-pointer. And then he finished a personal 8-2 run with another step-back 3 to give the Clippers a 98-90 lead with 1:41 remaining.

Leonard made all five of his shots in the fourth quarter and is the first player to go 5-for-5 or better in the fourth quarter when facing elimination since Leonard’s former teammate Tim Duncan did so against the Mavericks in 2009.

“The fact that he had the energy offensively to hit those shots down the stretch, the majority of which were very difficult, it’s something to behold,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.

Carlisle added: “We have done everything in this series, and we’ll have to be ready with the kitchen sink in Game 7.”

This was the kind of performance the Clippers envisioned when they signed Leonard, a two-time Finals MVP and elite two-way defender, and traded for George to help land Leonard in the summer of 2019.

But the job isn’t done. Leonard and the Clippers have more work to do in what will be another pressure-packed Game 7. This time, the Clippers hope to erase haunting memories from last year.

“Just something that I had young, always wanting to win the game, to try to exert my will on the floor,” Leonard said of his mentality entering this game from past playoff experiences. “And my teammates had the same mentality.

“So that’s what I tried to [instill] with them now to make sure that we keep fighting, don’t give up, and you never know what could happen. Just have faith and then play hard, have fun. That’s all you can do.”

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Five big takeaways from Game 3 of Jazz-Clippers

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Facing the possibility of going down 3-0 to the top-seeded Utah Jazz, the fourth-seeded LA Clippers played their best basketball of the series on Saturday in a 132-106 win in Game 3.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George led the way for the Clippers, as both stars eclipsed the 30-point mark in the postseason for the second time in their careers as teammates. LA is now 2-0 in those games. Donovan Mitchell had a team-high 30 points for the Jazz, his 14th career 30-point game in just 30 postseason contests, but exited midway through the fourth quarter after aggravating an ankle injury.

Can the Clippers keep it rolling in Game 4? Will the Jazz have a healthy backcourt to employ on Monday? Here are five things we gleaned from Game 3.

MORE: Matchups, schedules and full NBA playoffs coverage

Playoff P showed up on Saturday

Over the past several years, no one has taken more abuse for their playoff failures than Paul George. Time after time, he and his teams have fallen flat in the postseason, and George’s play — and his words — have been dissected to an endless degree.

Saturday night, though, was a reminder of why the Clippers went through the trouble to pair George with Kawhi Leonard two years ago — and why Leonard himself wanted to play alongside him.

George finished Game 3 with 31 points and five assists while going 6-for-10 from 3-point range — the kind of efficient offensive performance the Clippers desperately needed to get themselves back into this Western Conference semifinal, and one George needed to try and change the impression the basketball world has of him.

It’s been forgotten that, during his time with the Indiana Pacers, George had some massive playoff moments. But those have been overshadowed by the failures since then — from the first-round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, when Damian Lillard ended the series with a bomb over him from nearly half court, to last year’s collapse against the Denver Nuggets, when George fired a 3-pointer off the side of the backboard during the Clippers’ Game 7 loss. His “Playoff P” moniker has become the subject of an endless series of jokes as a result.

If he and the Clippers can dig themselves out of this hole, however, it will give George a chance to rewrite the narrative that’s sprung up around him. As my colleague Brian Windhorst is fond of saying, “Winning a championship means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Saturday night’s explosion put he and the Clippers one step closer to doing so. — Tim Bontemps


The Clippers find ways to attack Gobert

As good as Donovan Mitchell was for Utah in the first two games, Rudy Gobert‘s impact at both ends was nearly as important. The Jazz were plus-19 in Gobert’s 69 minutes of action and outscored by 10 in the other 27 minutes in Salt Lake City. That changed Saturday, when Utah was a minus-16 with Gobert on the court — similar to the plus-minus for the team’s other starters.

After going big in Game 2 with Ivica Zubac starting at center, the Clippers went back to their small starting lineup without a traditional center. That forced Gobert to defend a shooter on the perimeter, allowing the Clippers to attack without him as close to the basket. And unlike Game 1 — when they also started out-playing smallball — the Clippers avoided getting mashed on the offensive glass by the Jazz, who corralled just 22.5% of available offensive rebounds.

The result was a 44-32 edge in points in the paint for the Clippers, who shot 55% (22-of-40) on those attempts while Utah struggled to finish in the paint, going 16-of-35 (46%). — Kevin Pelton


Kawhi is still the best two-way player in the game

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Kawhi Leonard takes matters into his own hands as he makes his way to the basket and skies to vandalize the rim on a powerful throwdown.

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Kawhi Leonard takes matters into his own hands as he makes his way to the basket and skies to vandalize the rim on a powerful throwdown.

You knew Kawhi Leonard would be the best player on the court for at least one game this series.

For the Clippers to have any hope of advancing, it had to happen in Game 3. As he repeatedly did with LA in dire situations during the first round, Leonard rose to the occasion.

Credit to Paul George for making Leonard’s status as the biggest star of the Clippers’ win Saturday debatable. George had his best offensive performance of this postseason with 31 points, but Leonard’s extra-large fingerprints were all over the victory.

Leonard dominated with his strength, toughness and athleticism. He scored 34 points on 14-of-24 shooting, with more than half of his buckets coming in the paint. He grabbed 12 rebounds, several of the go-up-and-get-it-in-traffic variety. He was the Clippers’ most impactful defender, guarding Donovan Mitchell during much of the Jazz star’s scoreless first quarter and wreaking havoc as a help defender on many occasions.

You figured a two-time NBA Finals MVP wouldn’t go down without a fight. Leonard landed a haymaker on Saturday night. — Tim MacMahon


The Jazz need Mike Conley Jr.

Donovan Mitchell’s heroics in the first two games served as a great coverup, but the Jazz have been missing Mike Conley Jr. When Spida is off the floor, Conley is often tasked with running the offense and creating good looks for non-Mitchell teammates.

In the first two games of the series, Jazz players not named Mitchell shot just 38% from the field (46-for-121). Conley is the only other starter that can create a good look for himself, and without him, the offense is too one-dimensional. The Clippers were eventually going to adjust to the Jazz’s offensive schemes, and did so in Game 3.

With Mitchell having seemingly tweaked his previously injured ankle multiple times in this series, Conley’s offensive creation is even more vital if Mitchell were to slow in any way. — Andre Snellings


Reggie Jackson, the X-factor

When the Clippers were rounding out the pieces on the roster to complement their two stars, they probably didn’t exactly expect Reggie Jackson to become a deadeye spot-up shooter and critical third scorer.

But as this series progresses, Jackson’s importance is becoming obvious. Not only is he a shot creator and shot maker, he’s the spacer and pressure release that can open avenues for Leonard and George. Jackson’s late shot clock ability to either drive the lane or hit a difficult step-back are the kind of bailouts that playoff wins are often built on.

Against a team like the Jazz, that moves the ball dynamically, balances their scoring and hits barrages of 3s, relying on a two-headed attack wasn’t ever going to be enough. But if Jackson is going to consistently provide the kind of production of a pseudo third start, suddenly the Clippers start looking like the super team they were assumed to be. – Royce Young

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Paul George sets tone with bounce-back effort as LA Clippers rout Utah Jazz in needed Game 3 win

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LOS ANGELES — Paul George used a cross-over dribble to move to his left before drilling a rainbow step-back 3-pointer over Royce O’Neale and letting out a scream.

After hearing Jazz fans chant “overrated” at him for two games in Utah, an aggressive George had his best game of the playoffs, scoring 20 of his 31 points in the first half to set a much-needed tone for the LA Clippers on Saturday night. Kawhi Leonard then scored 24 of his 34 points in the second half to help the Clippers rout the Utah Jazz, 132-106, and get their first win of this Western Conference semifinal series.

George’s first 30-point game since April 23 came when the Clippers needed it to keep their title hopes alive. The Clippers now can even the series at 2-2 with a win Monday night in Game 4.

George found his rhythm and got hot, burying 6 of 10 3-pointers, four coming in the first half while playing with even more confidence on his home floor. After he hit the step-back 3 over O’Neale, George buried a 32-foot 3 and held his follow-through pose with confidence as the Clippers opened a 57-41 lead with 2:54 remaining in the first half. The Jazz never got any closer than eight in the third quarter.

“Oh, we’re a different team,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said of when George has his offense going early. “We know that. It’s been like that all season long. He’s been great. You know, he had one bad game, whatever, but people going to have bad games.”

George scored 20 points in Game 1 but Utah fans badgered him whenever they could as he shot 4-for-17 in Game 1. In Game 2, George scored 27 points and shot 8-for-18, but Jazz fans love taunting him dating back to when George was with Oklahoma City and the Thunder played Utah in the 2018 playoffs. George also has seen his fair share of Joe Ingles defending him, as the two have had their back-and-forth.

When asked what his relationship is with Ingles, George said, “I don’t care about him. Next question.”

For the Clippers, there is no question how good they can be when George and Leonard shift their games to another level like they did on Saturday. Not only did they combine to make 26 of 48 shots but they also took the challenge of slowing down Donovan Mitchell.

While Mitchell finished with 30 points before tweaking his sore right ankle, he was held scoreless for the first 16 minutes and 26 seconds of the game. After contesting 71% of his field goal attempts in the first two Jazz wins, the Clippers contested all but one of Mitchell’s 24 shots in Game 3, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“We just made an emphasis that he’s not going to beat us tonight,” George said of Mitchell, who played just four minutes and 55 seconds in the fourth quarter to rest his ankle with the game out of hand. “We’re going to force everybody else to play and we’re just not going to let him walk into shots tonight and get the looks that he wanted early tonight.”

Lue challenged his team to defend Mitchell better 1-on-1 but the Clippers also sent some doubles at the Jazz’ scorer, who scored 45 and 37 points in Games 1 and 2.

Mitchell did not score when defended by George on two shots and scored four of his points when guarded by Leonard.

After losing the first two games of first round at Staples Center against Dallas before winning the next two on the road to even the series, the Clippers will try to rebound from their second straight 0-2 deficit at home. No team in NBA playoff history has ever successfully overcome a 2-0 deficit and win multiple times in the same postseason.

They’ll take the momentum of their most decisive win of the playoffs and Leonard and George playing one of their best games together into a critical Game 4. The Clippers improved to 5-0 in the regular season and playoffs when their two All-Stars score 30 points or more each in a game together.

“With our two guys, we know that they are two of the best in the league,” Lue said. “I don’t go to Mastro’s [restaurant] to order the ketchup. I go to order the steak. And tonight, our guys were steak. That’s what we need.”

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Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell exits with ankle pain, says he’ll be ready for Game 4

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Utah Jazz star guard Donovan Mitchell exited Saturday’s 132-106 Game 3 loss to the LA Clippers because of pain in his right ankle, but the decision for him not to return was due to the lopsided score.

“I feel like I was able to go back, but no need to risk it down 16, 18 at that point,” Mitchell said. “I’ll be fine.”

A right ankle sprain sidelined Mitchell for the final 16 games of the regular season and the Jazz’s playoff opener, when he was angered by the Utah medical staff’s decision to make him a late scratch.

Mitchell has averaged 32.3 points per game during the playoffs, including 30 point on 11-of-24 shooting in Game 3, despite dealing with persistent pain in the ankle.

“It’s when I land,” Mitchell said. “It’s been just trying to manage it. I don’t really know what else to tell you; I don’t want to say too much. It was just the landing, but I’m good. I’ll be ready for Game 4.”

Mitchell limped off the court after a driving layup attempt with 7 minutes, 5 seconds remaining. He briefly went into the tunnel before returning to the Jazz bench.

With the game slipping away from the Jazz, Mitchell had a conversation with coach Quin Snyder. He did not return to the game, although the Utah medical staff had cleared him to return.

“He’s in good shape,” Snyder said. “He could have gone back in the game, but at that point, the lead had stretched. In fact, while we were talking, I think Kawhi hit a 3. That was my decision not to put him back in at that point. The game had gotten away from us at that point, but he’s fine.”

In the final moments of the game, Mitchell sat on the bench with his right shoe off and ice on the ankle.

“Obviously, it’s not going to be 100 percent, but you go out there and you try to compete,” Mitchell said. “Things like this are going to happen. You just got to find ways to manage it and get out there and get ready. It’s not going to be perfect, but it is what it is.”

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