This was 0-2, in some ways, not as disappointing as the previous round seemed to be for the Los Angeles Clippers.
We’re just 18 days away from the Clippers humbly tossing the first two to the Dallas Mavericks underdog, with every loss coming on the Staples Center home floor. It doesn’t matter if they win the series or not, a sweep it was in the minds of some before the Clippers returned and won Games 3 and 4 in Dallas, and then won Games 6 and 7 after falling to 3-2 after five. Their Game 7 victory in Los Angeles is the only time a home team has won a game in that series.
But this time, they went down 0-2 to the U-Shape Jazz top, which they lost last night, 117-111. Until Kawhi Leonard really became Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers didn’t have a fortune against the Mavericks, and even when he did, it wasn’t a guaranteed victory – see Game 2 where Leonard dropped 41 points on 14 of 21 shots at a loss 127-121. But anyway, without Leonard being Leonard – one of the 12 NBA players to ever win the MVP Final multiple times – the Clippers would be cooked. In Games 6 and 7, in particular, you see it.
In Game 6, the Mavs led 85-84 with 6:10 remaining, and then the Clippers outscored them 20-12 on the road to a 104-97 victory. Leonard had 10 of those points and finished the evening with an all-time playoff performance of 45 points on 18 of 25 shots, including 5-of-9 face-offs. And in Game 7, even though his scoring numbers weren’t so sharp – he contributed 28 points on 10 of 15 shots, with 10 rebounds and nine assists – Leonard led the game’s defensive pressure on Luka Dončić , who finished with 46 points out of 17 of 30 shots, but he shot 2-for-6 when he was guarded by Leonard.
He’s the type who should be the catalyst for Los Angeles, not the one that was just OK, for its high standards, in Utah these first two outings.
So far, it’s been the Donovan Mitchell Show offensively. The Louisville striker scored 72 combined points on 31 of 59 appearances so far in this series and is unstoppable regardless of who is on top of him. Even without Mike Conley (hamstring), the Jazz outscored the Clippers by nine points in the first two games.
In Game 1, Leonard was literally his average, scoring 23 points on 9 of 19 shots. But even though Paul George shot 10 rebounds, he only shot 4 of 17 from the floor and finished with 20 points. Luke Kennard is really the only other Clipper who has made a significant contribution, pouring 18 points from the bench on 7 of 9 shots. And in Game 2, Leonard was actually a touch less impactful, finishing with 21 points on 8 of 17 shots. George recovered with a useful 27 points on 8 of 18 shots, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. George also drained all nine free throw attempts. And Reggie Jackson made up the pace of the offense with 29 points on the 11th of 19 shots, including 4 of 8 marks from three. In trouble? No other Clipper has recorded more than 8 points. Kennard, who played in Game 1, scored three points in 10 minutes, recording a shot attempt.
The last series, when Leonard started playing regularly as we are used to, others followed. You saw Jackson make critical closing yards in the fourth quarter of Game 7. You saw George feed off of Leonard’s emergence, attacking continuously and reaching the fault line. despite the fight from the field, and you saw the team shut down defensively apparently whenever they needed to.
We haven’t seen the Leonard that has eaten the hearts of Mavericks fans in this series, but we should wait. The Clippers will need it to live up to their Western Conference title hopes. And no, that’s not it everything on Leonard, or even the tandem of Leonard and George – others will intensify, too. It’s the playoffs after all. But Leonard has to lead by example as he did to climb out of a deficit 0-2 weeks ago. Start with the type you need and type.