FLORIDA–Kawhi Leonard finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds as the Los Angeles Clippers advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs with a 111-97 victory over the injury-hampered Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.
Leonard, last year’s NBA Finals Most Valuable Player while with the Toronto Raptors, also had seven assists and five steals for the Clippers, who clinched the series four games to two.
“Just got to my spots and put up the shot with confidence and it went in,” Leonard said after his fifth 30-point game in a row. “Just kept giving it to me and it went in with confidence.”
The Clippers will face either Utah or the Jamal Murray-led Denver Nuggets, who forced a winner-take-all game seven on Tuesday night by beating the Jazz 119-107.
Luka Doncic scored 38 points in a losing cause in the spectator-free quarantine bubble at Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida.
The Clippers opened the second half with a 20-3 run for a 77-54 edge, and saw the lead trimmed to 88-82 early in the fourth in a Doncic-led fightback only to pull away again down the stretch.
Dallas was sorely missing starting centre Kristaps Porzingis, who was out with a knee injury.
“Momentum, it can switch real easily,” Leonard said. “You have to keep fighting when you’re up and when you’re down stay focused.”
Clippers forward Marcus Morris was ejected late in the first quarter after being whistled for a flagrant foul on the 21-year-old Doncic.
Morris grabbed then hit Doncic with a forearm slam on the head as the Slovenian star drove to the bucket with the ball. “It was a terrible play,” said Doncic.
In the Eastern Conference, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart each scored 21 points to lead the Boston Celtics over defending champion Raptors 112-94 in the opening game of their second-round series.
Kemba Walker added 18 points and 10 assists for the Celtics, who also had 17 points from Jaylen Brown plus 13 points and 15 rebounds from Daniel Theis.
“Marcus today was unbelievable on both ends,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “All our guys played with great purpose, great enthusiasm. We just have to clean some stuff up.”
Game two of the best-of-seven series comes Tuesday.
Boston frustrated Toronto shooters, as the Raptors went 31-of-84 from the floor and 10-of-40 from 3-point range — the most 3-point misses ever by Toronto in a playoff contest.
“We just didn’t play well enough to win,” said guard Kyle Lowry, who led Toronto with 17 points despite a sore left ankle. “We’ve got to do our coverages harder, execute better.”
The games were the first for each club since last Sunday after a walkout shut down the NBA playoffs for three days until team owners and players agreed on league measures to support voting, social justice and racial equality programs.
“We needed a chance to catch our breath as players and black men and get some things handled. It was a really emotional week. It was up and down. It was hard,” Lowry said.
“Basketball always matters but in this situation, in this time, it’s taking a back seat. We’re going to perform at the highest level we can perform at, no excuses, but we have an obligation because we have this platform and can reach out to the world.”
Said Canadian Murray of the Nuggets, “It is not just America, it happens everywhere.”
The Celtics were without Gordon Hayward, who is out until late September with a right ankle injury.
In the late game, Murray posted his second 50-point game of the series to power the Nuggets to a win over Utah which tied the series at 3-3.
Donovan Mitchell finished with a team high 44 points for the Jazz.
Denver is trying to become the 12th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win a series and the first in four years.