There was no better way to say it. When asked about Kawhi Leonard’s performance in the Clippers’ Game 6 win over the Mavericks on Friday night, Dallas star Luka Doncic offered a short, but extremely accurate, response.
“I mean, he destroyed us,” Doncic said. “That’s what it is. He had a hell of a game. That’s what he does.”
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Leonard was surgical in Los Angeles’ 104-97 win, scoring 45 points on 18-of-25 shooting with six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 42 minutes of action. He became just the fourth player in NBA playoff history to score 45 points while shooting at least 70 percent from the field when facing elimination.
The two-time NBA Finals MVP hit big shot after big shot in the second half, refusing to let Doncic and the Mavs send his squad into the offseason.
|Leonard in Game 6||PTS||FG-FGA||3PT-3PTA||FT-FTA|
It wasn’t just Leonard’s brutal efficiency that made the difference, though. He accepted the challenge of being the primary defender against Doncic, who still scored 29 points and dished out 11 assists but had to work for his offense (11 of 24 from the field, 2 of 9 from 3-point range).
“Great players perform in big moments,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He was huge, man, taking the challenge, guarding Luka the whole game. . . . Played 42 minutes and guarded their best player. He was a hell of a player for the whole game. That just shows you who Kawhi Leonard is.”
The job isn’t done yet, of course. The Clippers must now defeat the Mavericks in Game 7 if they want to advance to the conference semifinals, no small task considering the brilliance of Doncic and the fact that, for the first time in NBA playoff history, the road team has won the first six games of the series.
Los Angeles will be looking to exorcise the playoff demons of last season when it blew a 3-1 lead against Denver in the “bubble” and became the laughingstock of the NBA. Paul George got the worst of the ridicule, but Leonard was very much part of that collapse, going 14 of 40 in the final two losses of the 2019-20 season. Leonard went on a legendary championship run with the Raptors, but he has struggled in clutch moments since joining the Clippers in 2019, including an ugly air ball at the end of Game 5.
There were no such struggles in Game 6. Los Angeles will need that version of Leonard one more time, and Lue expects to see him on Sunday.
“We’re going to lean on Kawhi a lot because he’s been through it,” Lue said. “He understands what it takes. Just his poise and his approach, we’re going to be fine.”