The Mavericks – the Luka-less Mavericks – got Kawhied on Friday night.
You don’t win the NBA finals MVP twice without being able to rise to any occasion and Los Angeles Clippers’ forward Kawhi Leonard lived up to his pedigree in Game 3.
He dropped 36 points, nine rebounds and eight assists on the Mavericks in the Clippers’ 130-122 win that put them up 2-1 in the first-round series. He was, quite simply, unstoppable.
But even after his outrageous performance, the Mavericks weren’t about to panic.
In fact, defiance would be a better description of their postgame mood.
Asked what they need to do to rebound in Game 4, Tim Hardaway Jr. said: “Everybody take care of their bodies and get ready for a battle on Sunday.”
With or without Luka Dončić, who left Game 3 with a left ankle sprain in the third quarter, tried to return, but called it a night early in the fourth period.
A series can’t be any closer than 2-1 after three games. The Mavericks had a lot of positive moments Friday night, but not many of them came in a second quarter when they were hammered for 45 points by the Clippers, including 10 points and four assists by Leonard, who clearly was on a mission all night.
“Kawhi is going to do what Kawhi does out there on the floor,” said Hardaway, who had 22 points, including 13 in the third quarter when he and Kristaps Porzingis helped keep the Mavericks within striking distance. “But give their supporting cast a pat on the back. They did a great job of knocking down their shots and taking advantage of their matchups.
“The difference in the game was the second quarter, allowed them to score 45 points when the score was 23-23. You can’t let that happen in the playoffs.”
The Clippers eased ahead in the series despite Paul George shooting 3-for-17 from the field.
Leonard more than took up the slack. And there were six other Clippers scoring in double figures to support him.
“It’s tough,” said Seth Curry, who matched Hardaway’s 22 points. “We’re playing good defense and he’s making shots over us. We play even better defense and . . . he got to the foul line. We got to make adjustments and come back in the next game and try to be even better.
“When a guy gets it going, you got to take something away. And we didn’t really take anything away from him tonight. He got everything he wanted – and they put him on the foul line.”
The Mavericks had Maxi Kleber on Leonard much of the time with Dorian Finney-Smith checking him at times, too. They tried to go one-on-one as much as possible.
“We’ll look at everything,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s a seven-game series. We’re three games in. You play a team like the Clippers, you’ve got to be ready to throw the kitchen sink at them.”
When asked about double-teams, traps and other defensive strategies, Carlisle said: “We’ll look at all that stuff and study it. We’ve got to do a better job keeping him from getting layups.”
And, regardless of Dončić’s status come Sunday afternoon, the Mavericks are adamant that they will not be short on confidence.
Asked if they can still make a run at the Clippers even if Dončić is unavailable, Hardaway said: “What do you mean? Can we still make a run? It’s only 2-1 (in the series).
“Last time I checked it’s the first one to four wins. So we’ll figure out what Luka’s doing tomorrow but right now let’s go back home, watch film and see what the doctors and our staff says on Luka.”
Shots come alive: The Mavericks were only 5-of-19 from 3-point range at halftime, but they rallied to hit 12-of-24 from long range in the final 24 minutes.
Kristaps Porzingis, who led them with 34 points, nailed 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.
Seeing some shots fall hopefully will provide a carryover on Sunday.
When asked about what will be needed on Sunday, Hardaway said: “What we did in the second half, toward the end of the game, being aggressive and building on how we finished,”
Strong replacement for Beverley: The Clippers again were without point guard Patrick Beverley, who is sidelined with a strained left calf muscle.
LA is 12-11 this season in games Beverley has missed.
Coach Doc Rivers elected to start 6-4 Landry Shamet in Beverley’s spot. The second-year guard from Wichita State has been working his way back into shape after coming to the bubble late after contracting COVID-19 in July.
He looked fine, scoring 18 points, including a dunk over 7-4 Boban Marjanović and a hard-nosed layup on a baseline drive over 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis.
Shamet finished as the Clippers’ second-leading scorer with 18 points.
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