2021 Playoffs: West First Round | Clippers vs. Mavericks

LA Clippers exorcise playoff demons in Game 7 triumph

The Clippers put last year's bubble meltdown behind them with a gritty, gutsy victory over Luka Doncic and the Mavericks.

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Game 7 Recap: Clippers 126, Mavericks 111

Until further notice, the new four-letter word associated with the LA Clippers in the playoffs is “guts.” 

It took that to deal with the greatness of Luka Doncic, to fight off a pair of elimination games, to carry all the baggage that followed them from the bubble last fall, to pull through and persevere Sunday in LA in a series where the home team was wack.

The Clippers, both historically and here in the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George era, don’t do anything easily. And this seven-game series with the Mavericks was certainly proof of that. They had to furiously rally to become only the fifth team in NBA history to win a series after going 0-2 at home. That said: The Clippers are moving on to the Western Conference semifinals because they rose up and met the challenge of a Game 7 with a 126-111 victory.

And again, until further notice, they gave themselves a fresh new outlook and image.

How long will this last? How will the Clippers do in the next round against the Utah Jazz, who by nature of their No. 1 seed looms as a tougher test than the Mavs? Well, that’s tomorrow’s discussion. For now, the Clippers can breathe a little easier and with relief, knowing they escaped potential disaster and have the chance to fulfill some if not all the promise that this Kawhi-George tandem holds.

The Clippers, you see, began these playoffs with more to prove than perhaps any other team. This was all due to last season when they blew a 3-1 West semifinals lead against the Denver Nuggets. In the Game 7 of that series, Kawhi and George were feeble, especially in the fourth quarter. They were roasted on social media, and George hitting the side of the backboard in the final moments of that series got plenty of mileage and laughs. Kawhi’s decision to sign with this LA team instead of that L.A. team was roundly questioned — especially when that L.A. team eventually lifted the trophy.

Kawhi Leonard delivered in Game 7, but he got plenty of help from his teammates to take down Dallas.

Yet, this LA  team is the only one still active. Anyway, the failure of a year ago was very much present Sunday inside the Staples Center, even though you couldn’t see it, only feel it. The Clippers had a choice: Either feed the reputation, or defeat it for once. By the fourth quarter, it was apparent that the Clippers chose wisely.

By then, they finally figured out Doncic, who bamboozled them all series on the pick and roll, who was the devil in their nightmares. He delivered yet another riveting performance with 46 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds. Only Sam Jones and Dominique Wilkins scored more points in a Game 7, and he’s only 22. Luka was so smart figuring out coverages and drawing fouls and applying intense pressure on the LA defense throughout the first round. The Clippers had an idea Sunday: If we run up a big enough lead, and constantly throw double teams and force anyone but Luka to beat us, maybe we’ll have a chance.

Yes, it took them 6 1/2 games to learn their lesson, but hey, better late than never.

The Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic scores 46 points with 14 assists and seven rebounds versus the Clippers.

Kawhi was the second-best player on the floor in this series, and there’s hardly any shame in that. He followed up a face-saving Game 6 — remember, he was faulty in the closing moments of Game 5 — with another outstanding effort Sunday at both ends. His stuff: 28 points (10-for-15 shooting), 10 rebounds, nine assists, four steals and no turnovers in 42 minutes. Based on his history with the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors, Kawhi was made for this … what happened in the bubble was an aberration. He’s championship-tested and is clearly the franchise’s savior.

The Clippers also had the support that Kawhi needed as well. Marcus Morris was 48 hours removed from a horrific shooting game (1-for-10) and followed up with seven 3-pointers on nine attempts. Nicolas Batum (11 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals) was solid all around, especially with defensive help on Doncic and others.

Terance Mann, who tightened up late in Game 6 when he passed up a layup, had 13 off the bench. Luke Kennard, who’d fallen so far down the bench that his seat was in the parking lot, was dusted off and he responded with 11 points in 14 minutes. Those were the bonuses that caught the Mavs by surprise — and probably everyone else, too.

The happiest person in the building was Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, who can keep those celebratory court-side gyrations coming. His team will not face a long offseason’s worth of soul searching and big changes, as they did a year ago.

The Clippers, if only by default, are now LA’s team. And nobody is questioning their guts, for a change.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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