A big deal was made out of the monster dunk Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard perfected over Dallas Mavericks center/forward Maxi Kleber on Saturday during Game 1 of the NBA playoff’s first round.
But from Kleber’s and the Mavs’ viewpoint, the dunk changed neither the complexion or the final outcome of the game.
“I challenge a lot of shots, I’ve blocked a lot of shots in my career,” Kleber said following Sunday’s practice session. “I’ve got dunked on before, so this is not going to affect the game.
“It’s two points, but you’ve got to keep playing your game.”
After that dunk with 3:59 remaining in the third quarter, the Clippers closed to within 75-73 of the Mavs. But the Mavs kept playing their game and quickly scored on layups in the next 55 seconds by Jalen Brunson and Doran Finney-Smith to pad their lead to 79-73.
In fact, following that dunk by Leonard the Mavs outscored the Clippers, 38-30, the rest of the game and went on to claim a 113-103 victory. So the question remains: Did the dunk energize the Mavs or the Clippers?
“That game at that point could have gone either way,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “So I really like the way we kept our composure, we kept executing and we were able to make some plays.
“This is going to be a possession-by-possession series — no question about it.”
On the play itself, Kleber was in a bind considering he had three fouls and was in no mood to collect his fourth.
“So I couldn’t take an early take-foul to stop the fast break,” he said. “But this is the playoffs, so I’m going to try to contest the shot.
“I don’t care about (getting dunked on), even though we don’t try to give up easy baskets.”
Kleber also felt because Leonard stared him down after the dunk, there should have been some sort of ramifications.
“I think the stare-down should have been a technical foul in my opinion, but that’s not my decision,” Kleber said. “But I didn’t really care. I get up and I try to keep playing, and we kept playing. Stuff like that happens.
“Obviously it was an amazing dunk, because I honestly didn’t expect him to jump up and dunk. But it’s not going to hold me back, because at the end of the day every possession counts and I couldn’t foul, and I would do it every time.”
The dunk didn’t lead to an LA win, so that’s all the Mavs are concerned with.
“There’s going to be momentum plays in NBA playoff games, and there’s going to be runs by both teams,” Carlisle said. “The big thing for us all year has been responding and thinking about the next play and getting to the next play.
“There haven’t been many fans in arenas this year. All of a sudden in the playoffs arenas are getting pretty good numbers. For 7,000 people (at Game 1), yesterday this place was loud. But the reality is a play like that, it gets the building going, but it’s two points. We just got to respond the right way by executing the next offensive play and then the next defensive play.”
And that’s precisely what the Mavs did in taking home court advantage away from the Clippers.
After missing six of the last eight games of the regular season with right Achilles soreness, Kleber drew the difficult assignment of trying to guard Leonard. In 36 minutes, Kleber scored six points, grabbed nine rebounds and handed out four assists, while Leonard tallied 26 points, collected 10 boards, handed out five assists and was 9-of-22 from the field and just 1-of-6 from 3-point land.
“We all know he’s a very talented player and he can make basically every kind of shot,” Kleber said. “If you bump him and take something away like a layup, he has this ability to take those mid-range jumpers that can be very hurtful.
“We know you just got to take the challenge and try to do the best job in contesting every shot and try to make it work before he even shoots it.”
Carlisle was impressed with the way Kleber held his own against Leonard, who was just 2-of-5 from the floor with only five points following his big dunk.
“I thought (Kleber) played very well yesterday,” Carlisle said. “Defensively, he’s got one of the hardest matchups in the world.
“It’s just all about scrambling around and trying to make it tough.”
And because the Mavs now own home court advantage in this best-of-seven series, they know the Clippers will be scrambling around and trying to make it tough on them in Game on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. in Los Angeles.
“We expect them to come out even more physical,” Kleber said. “Also, we’ve got to be prepared for that and fight back and not back down.
“I think we should be very confident in the way we play and just approach it and go and keep fighting and competing. I think the mindset should be the same. Attack on offense, and on defense just stay strong, because we know they’re going to play physical and they’re going to have all those antics and stuff. We need to focus on us and play our game and come in and play the right way.”
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