Tim Hardaway Jr. probably should be flattered.

After he tore up the Los Angeles Clippers in Games 1 and 2, LA coach Tyronn Lue made the decision to give Hardaway star-level defensive treatment.

That meant having Kawhi Leonard guarding Hardaway to start games.

It happened again Wednesday night in Game 5.

But this time, things were a little different.

Hardaway, the Mavericks’ 6-5 shooting guard who had been smothered in Games 3 and 4, has been asked to do more in this series at least in part because of the attention the Clippers’ defense is paying to Kristaps Porzingis.

On Wednesday, as the Mavericks went ahead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series with a 105-100 victory at Staples Center, Hardaway didn’t let a slow start hold him down.

He had 12 of his 20 points in the second half and while he did not shoot the ball great, his timing could not have been better. He had a 3-pointer that put the Mavericks up 98-91 and two free throws with 8.8 seconds left that made it 103-100.

And it was the third game this series he’s scored 20 or more points.

The Mavericks are 3-0 in those games.

“Just trying to stay aggressive and picking my spots,” Hardaway said about how he has adjusted to having Leonard, one of the NBA’s best defenders, shadowing him in stretches. “I have to stay aggressive in order to feel like I’m doing something out there to benefit the team.

“I felt like the last couple games, I was passing up a lot of shots I know I can make. I’m just trying to do my best to keep the defense honest. And in order to do that, you got to take some shots, be aggressive, drive to the basket, see what happens and go on from there.”

Leonard hasn’t spent all of his defensive time against Hardaway, just enough to make life tough on him. That continued in Game 5, when the Mavericks tried to counter a lot of the things that the Clippers have adjusted since falling behind 2-0.

Hardaway made it clear from the start he wasn’t going to go meekly into the background. He drove to the basket, missed a slam, but was fouled on the first possession.

It was a sign of the aggressiveness to come.

The production of Hardaway has been emblematic of everything the Mavericks have done in this series.

In Games 1 and 2, Hardaway had 49 points and shot 17-of-27. He was 11-of-17 from beyond the 3-point arc.

In Games 3 and 4, Hardaway had 16 points and shot 5-of-22. He was 4-of-10 from long range.

The 3-point shooting has still been good. But Hardaway had not been able to get those easy looks from distance.

On Wednesday, he hit three of his 10 3-pointers and added seven rebounds to his night’s work.

Remember, this is a player who averaged 26 points over a six-game stretch before going chilly in the final two games of the regular season.

Everybody in the NBA knows that Hardaway can be streaky. But when he’s got things rolling, few players can run up point totals like he can, particularly from the perimeter.

“Yeah, they put Kawhi Leonard on him to start the game,” coach Rick Carlisle said before the game. “And that’s one of the best defenders in the world. So, yeah, we’re going to have to be creative if it’s going to be half-court stuff because he (Leonard) is going to do a great job in most situations. And there are certain times when we’re just going to have to keep him out of the area and look to attack, basically, four-on-four.”

That was a result of Lue making Hardaway a priority defensively after he incinerated the Clippers in Games 1 and 2.

“We definitely want to limit his 3-point shots,” Lue said. “Starting Kawhi on him the last couple games I thought has been great, Bringing the physicality, a bigger defender. So we’re trying to make sure we’re running him off the 3-point line as best as possible, making him play inside the three.”

The Clippers did a good job of that in Game 4, particularly.

But on Wednesday, it was Hardaway on the attack again. And with him supporting Luka Dončić offensively, the Mavericks are one win from the Western Conference semifinals.

Twitter: @ESefko

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