DALLAS — For the first time in NBA history, the road team has won each of the first six games of a series. Now, the Dallas Mavericks have to make it seven, or their season is over.
The Los Angeles Clippers won at the American Airlines Center for the third time in this Western Conference quarterfinal series, 104-97, to even the series 3-3. Game 7 will be Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Central Time, at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. The game can be seen on WFAA.
Kawhi Leonard was sensational all night long, finishing with 45 points on a scorching hot 18-25 shooting.
"He destroyed us," Mavs star Luka Doncic said of Leonard after the game. "That’s what it is. He had a hell of a game. That’s what he does."
Every time the Clippers needed a basket, he was the answer. His back-to-back baskets in the final three minutes pushed the Clippers' lead to 7, at 95-88 with 2:18 to play.
Dallas never realistically threatened again.
"The fact that he had the energy, offensively, to hit those shots down the stretch - the majority of which were very difficult -- is something to behold," Carlisle said of Leonard. "We're gonna have to do a better job. We're gonna have to look at our scheming... we'll have to be ready with the kitchen sink in Game 7."
Luka Doncic finished with 29 points on 11-24 shooting, with 11 assists, as the Mavs superstar was frustrated by the Clippers defense -- and the officials -- all night long.
Los Angeles was called for 14 fouls. Dallas was called for 21. And the myriad calls that went against the Mavericks clearly agitated Doncic and his teammates throughout the game.
"I don't want to talk officiating," Doncic said, after flashing a frustrated smile when he was told of the foul disparity. "Everybody saw the game. And that's it."
On the Mavericks home floor, Los Angeles shot 28 free throws while Dallas shot just 14.
Game 7 will now present Dallas with the opportunity to win all four games on the Clippers' home floor and finish off a series where the home team never wins a game.
"We're still motivated. There's one more game left," Doncic said. "I don't see why we shouldn't believe in [ourselves]. [Tonight] was only one game, so we still believe."
The Mavs have been very impressive at STAPLES Center, controlling each of the three games in Los Angeles to push this series to its limit. But that guarantees nothing about Sunday's game.
"It's Game 7. It doesn't matter where you are," Doncic said. "It's Game 7, you've got to leave everything on the court."
"I don't know that any of the guys in our locker room, other than maybe Redick, have been in a Game 7," Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said. "We'll be excited. And we'll be ready."
Carlisle has made multiple switches to the lineup in the series, in an effort to jump-start the offense or corral the Clippers' game plan. Starting Boban Marjanovic in the last two games has been the most notable switch, and has been effective in spurts. Heading into a Game 7, it would seem that both coaching staffs have made all the tweaks they can make, and now it's time to roll the ball out there and play. But Carlisle wasn't so certain of that, postgame.
"In most cases, both teams have seen pretty much everything," he said. "I'm not sure that's gonna be the case here. We've seen a little something different in each and every game. We'll just have to wait and see."
In a game where Dallas could have used a big night out of Kristaps Porzingis, it didn't materialize. Porzingis had 7 points and 5 rebounds and made three of his seven shots from the field.
Porzingis has been used more as a floor spacer in this series, especially in the last two games for Dallas. Hence only seven shots. That usage has been a mental battle for Porzingis, but he's said all the right things after games, offering that he'll do whatever the team needs him to do.
The Mavs rested Luka in his usual spot, for the opening 2:44 of the fourth quarter. During that time frame, the Mavs lead was wiped out, from a 77-73 edge to start the frame, to a 79-79 score as he stepped back on the floor. A Paul George three-pointer on the next possession ensured that Luka faced a 3-point deficit by the time he got the ball in his hands for the first time in the fourth quarter.
Dallas used an impressive third quarter to build a four-point lead entering the final frame. Doncic scored just two points in the period, but was the facilitator of everything Dallas did, upping his assist total to 10 for the game, before the period ended.
Tim Hardaway Jr. scored seven straight points for Dallas to help build a 60-55 Dallas lead.
Boban Marjanovic was the beneficiary of multiple Doncic assists, to help the Mavs start the half strong, with an 8-2 run.
The second quarter was dominated by Kawhi Leonard, who finished the first half with 16 points. The final six made Clippers field goals of the first half came courtesy of Leonard, who led LA to a 48-45 lead at the break.
The Mavs utilized their twin towers lineup to start for a second straight game, putting Marjanovic and Kristaps Porzingis together in the frontcourt. And again, it paid dividends, disrupting the Clippers' offensive flow. And Marjanovic found a couple of buckets, too, to add to his utility.
Meanwhile, Porzingis drained a big three-pointer, to help Dallas build a five-point lead, 17-12.
Doncic had his best quarter in the opening frame, scoring 11 of his points in that period, to help Dallas hold a 28-26 lead after the first twelve minutes.
Also in the first Reggie Jackson was the offense for LA. He made each of his first five shots, scoring 12 points in the first 8:09 of the game.