An NBA season that started late because of the coronavirus pandemic ended prematurely for the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday afternoon at STAPLES Center.

Kawhi Leonard scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and the Los Angeles Clippers overcame a powerful performance by Luka Doncic to defeat the Mavs, 126-111, in Game 7. With the win – the first for a home team in this series — the Clippers captured the best-of-seven first-round match, 4-3, and will start the conference semifinals at Utah on Tuesday.

It was a heartbreaking finish for the Mavs, who led this series 2-0 after winning twice in Los Angeles, and again at 3-2 after winning Game 5 in LA. But a torrid 24-4 Clipper run to close the third quarter wiped out an 81-76 Mavs lead and sent LA into the fourth period with a commanding 100-85 cushion.

“It’s a game of runs and those things are going to happen, and they shot the ball really well from three today,” said forward Kristaps Porzingis, who finished with 16 points and 11 boards. “We fought as hard as we could and sometimes shots go in and sometimes they don’t.

“Tonight was one of those nights where we couldn’t make more shots from the outside, although we did play pretty good basketball, I felt like.”

A pair of free throws from Leonard padded the Clippers’ lead to 106-87 with 9:20 remaining in the game. But the Mavs put on their rally caps and stormed back to within 114-107 with 2:06 left following two free throws from Porzingis and a layup and 3-pointerr from Doncic.

However, back-to-back 3-pointers from Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr. increased the Clipper advantage to 120-107 with just 1:16 to go.

“We’re very disappointed with the result of the series, obviously,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Today, their hot-shooting from three was probably the story of the game. We didn’t have a great day shooting the ball.

“I thought we competed very well. We just didn’t play as well as we needed to, and so that was in my view the biggest thing here. Once again I think all-in-all there were many positives to this season, but not as many as we’d like.”

In defeat, Doncic was brilliant as he finished with 46 points, seven rebounds and 14 assists as he either scored or assisted on 31 of the 45 field goals the Mavs made. But as is his character, Doncic couldn’t care less about any individual statistics.

The fact that the Mavs have now lost to the Clippers in the playoffs for the second year in a row is what’s bothersome to the third-year point guard.

“We’ve been to the playoffs twice and we lost both times,” said Doncic, who was 17-of-30 from the field. “You get paid to win, so we didn’t do it.

“The playoffs is different than the regular season. Game 7 is a totally different game. You’ve got to give everything. Today wasn’t the results we wanted, but we’ll come back next year.”

One major takeaway from Game 7 was the superb play of the Clippers’ bench. Limited to just four points in Game 6, the LA bench outscored their Mavs’ counterparts, 27-6, in this decisive game with Terance Mann scoring 13 and Luke Kennard adding 11.

“When they got 24 points and they hadn’t been scoring that much this series,” said Dorian Finney-Smith, who contributed 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Mavs. “Their points, we didn’t account for.

“They did a good job of being ready off the bench. Luke Kennard, he probably hadn’t played but 17 minutes total (in this series) and he came out here and had a very great game, so hat’s off to them.”

Mann scored all 13 of his points in the first half – the same as Paul George and Leonard each had at that juncture – as the Clippers owned a 70-62 lead at intermission. Doncic scored 29 of his points in the first half, which is the most by any player in a Game 7 over the last 25 years.

“Their bench stepped up and had a great game,” Carlisle said. “In the first half (Rajon) Rondo hit a three and then Mann hit two threes, and Kennard hit a couple in the second half.”

The 20 3-pointers the Clippers converted – on 43 attempts – also were a difference-maker. That’s the most triples any team has made in a Game 7 in NBA history.

“It came down to the first team to win at home, and they were that team that got us at home,” Finney-Smith said. “But we stuck together. Tonight they were just the better team.”

Prior to the Clippers’ massive game-deciding 24-4 run, the Mavs led, 81-76, with 6:53 remaining in the third quarter after Porzingis drained an 11-footer. But from there, it was as if a lid was covering the basket as the Mavs closed the third quarter by misfiring on 10 of 12 shots.

Meanwhile, during that same time frame, the Clippers were 7-of-14 from the field, including a trio of 3-pointers each from Morris (23 points) and Kennard.

Doncic was in one of those zones in the first quarter when he tallied 19 points on 6-of-8 shots, including 3-of-4 from beyond the 3-point arc. However, thanks to some heady play by Leonard, the Clippers darted ahead, 31-26. But Porzingis scored his eighth point – he had seven total points in Game 6 — and Doncic kicked into high gear as his one-legged fallaway jumper pushed the Mavs out front, 36-33.

The Mavs were saddled with some bad news when guard Tim Hardaway Jr. hobbled off the court and into the locker room – favoring his right ankle – with 5:09 to go in the first quarter. But Hardaway was back on the court with 2:13 left and wound up scoring 11 points on 5-of-14 shots, while Boban Marjanovic finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Overall, the Mavs shot 49.5 percent from the field, but converted only 10-of-36 3-pointers for 27.8 percent. The Clippers, meanwhile, shot 50 percent from the floor and made 46.5 percent of their 3-pointers.

“We just didn’t have a good day overall,” Carlisle said. “Luka had a great individual day. Everybody’s given us something really important this year.

“But today’s a disappointment. There’s no two ways about that. We’re not happy about losing.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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