2021 Playoffs: West First Round | Clippers vs. Mavericks

Clippers come out firing in dominating Game 4 win

Mavs have no answer for Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and LA's small lineup as Clippers even up series.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

The LA Clippers showed toughness in taking Game 4 of their series with the Dallas Mavericks.

Tyronn Lue flashed a glimpse Friday of the lineup that might completely flip this series, only to unleash it again full bore Sunday to help the LA Clippers even things up 2-2 with a 106-81 win over the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.

Instead of waiting for the Mavericks to inflict damage before making adjustments, Lue rolled out a small-ball lineup from the onset that prevented Luka Doncic from hunting Clippers big man Ivica Zubac on switches. At the same time, LA stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George attacked relentlessly from tipoff to help LA build a 61-45 halftime lead from which Dallas could never recover.

After combining for 65 points in Game 3, Leonard and George came together for 35 points in the first half to help LA build a 19-point lead thanks to a dominant performance from the duo in the paint and midrange.

Leonard scored a game-high 29 points on 11-for-15 shooting with 10 rebounds, while George chipped in 20 points.

“We’re playing great, that’s all I care about,” Leonard said after the game. “One player, two players can’t win a championship or win a playoff series.”

Game 4 Recap: Clippers 106, Mavericks 81

But Leonard and George certainly pushed LA into an advantageous position headed into Wednesday’s Game 5 at the Staples Center (10 ET, TNT).

Doncic, meanwhile, fought through a neck strain that limited his production, while leaving his health a major question mark going forward.

After the game, Doncic said his neck felt “way better” Sunday than it did the day prior, and added he’ll continue undergoing treatment in preparation for Game 5.

“It appears to me that he couldn’t turn his neck to the left,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said, “and that’s difficult for a guy who relies on his peripheral vision, and who’s played his whole life with his head on a swivel.”

As Doncic grimaced through neck pain in the first half due to an injury sustained early in Game 3 on Friday, Leonard and George inflicted their own brand of punishment in the opening half on a combined 14-for-22 shooting. Leonard’s 26-footer off a George assist at the 6:58 mark of the second quarter gave LA a 48-29 lead.

Lue planted those seeds for dominance early.

The Clippers started the game with a lineup featuring Leonard and George alongside Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson and Batum in place of Zubac, which gave LA the ability to switch effectively on everything from the beginning. Game 4 marked Batum’s first start since March 30 against the Orlando Magic.

Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points to help the Clippers forge a series tie with the Mavs.

Smartly, Carlisle countered less than halfway through the opening quarter by going big with 7-foot-4 Boban Marjanovic at center — who entered with the Mavericks down 12-6. The Dallas big man immediately scored back-to-back buckets to pull the Mavericks to within three over a span of 39 seconds.

That wasn’t enough to slow the onslaught initiated earlier by Leonard and George.

Leonard knocked down all five shots in the first quarter for 10 points, and his first miss on the night didn’t come until 5:19 remained before intermission, when his 11-foot turnaround jumper fell off the mark. George followed up with 13 points in the second quarter, going 5-for-8 from the field and 3-for-3 from deep as the Clippers led by 15 points at the half.

The Clippers’ small-ball lineup limited Kristaps Porzingis to just nine points on 3-for-10 shooting and a minus-9 finish over 34 minutes in Game 3. The look wasn’t as effective against Porzingis in Game 4, as he finished with 18 points on 7-for-12 from the field.

Kawhi Leonard: Glad we are playing well as a unit

But overall, the usually hot Mavericks struggled shooting the deep ball.

Dorian Finney-Smith hit a 25-footer off a Jalen Brunson assist with 14.1 seconds left in the third quarter, marking Dallas’ fourth 3-pointer of the night. At that point, the Mavericks were 4-for-24 from 3-point range, and finished the game connecting on just 5 of 30 from deep.

The Clippers outrebounded the Mavs 53-41, while registering six blocked shots.

“As badly as it went, I saw a lot of positive in the game,” Carlisle said. “We have to work at defending better. That’s obvious.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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