It’s been a decade.
Including a year that felt like another decade in itself.
That’s how long we’ve waited since the Mavericks last felt the thrill of winning a playoff series.
On Sunday, they have a one-game all-or-nothing opportunity to put a halt to that too-long, too-strange hiatus.
And that dude – no, that other dude – Kawhi Leonard, is standing in their way.
One of the grittiest playoff competitors of this or any other era is why the Mavericks aren’t already celebrating and preparing for Utah in the Western Conference semifinals.
Leonard’s career playoff-tying best 45 points – including eight in a row with the game on the line – tied the first-round series at three wins apiece. Nobody’s won at home yet.
So either the Clippers are due or this will be the most backwards NBA series in history.
Given the events of the past 16 months, maybe that’s fitting. The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since 2011 in the NBA Finals. It’s not supposed to come easy.
What the Mavericks must do in Game 7 Sunday (2:30 p.m.) is somehow make sure Leonard is not the best player on the court again.
In Game 6, it wasn’t even close. Leonard hit 18-of-25 shots and mixed in six rebounds. He guarded Luka Dončić a lot of the time, and occasionally vice-versa. One of Leonard’s 3-pointers at crunch time came over Luka’s outstretched arm.
As Tim Hardaway Jr. said, “he’s a superstar for a reason.”
And a two-time NBA Finals MVP. And a two-time NBA champion who needs a victory Sunday to keep alive his hope to be a three-time NBA champion.
So how do the Mavericks make sure that doesn’t happen? First, the Mavericks have to learn from the first six games, and particularly the most recent.
“He’s been a big factor defensively throughout the series,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Leonard. “He’s going to make it tougher on any individual player he’s on.
“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. We’re going to have to do a better job . . . have to be ready with the kitchen sink in Game 7.”
Carlisle mentioned limiting Leonard’s touches, but that will require some tough decisions.
Reggie Jackson had a terrific Game 6 with 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists. He became an X-factor that teams involved in a razor-close playoff series crave.
The Mavericks have yet to come up with their X-factor, although Tim Hardaway Jr. has done his part.
But the Mavericks will have to decide whether they want to make life tougher on Jackson at the risk of allowing Leonard to have another monster game.
One positive for the Mavericks from Game 6 was that the Clippers’ bench scored a grand total of four points.
It’s something to build on.
The Mavericks know they are against the odds – again – in Game 7. Leonard has been in a Game 7 five times. He’s 2-3 in those games.
Take away J.J. Redick, who isn’t playing, and the entire Mavericks’ roster has been in a Game 7 three times. Josh Richardson is 1-1 in Game 7 situations. And Boban Marjanović is 0-1.
Then again, these days, maybe ignorance is bliss.
The Mavericks know what the stakes are. That’s enough. They don’t need to grasp just how big the moment really is. It will help define a piece of Mavericks history.
“It’s Game 7. It doesn’t matter where you are,” Dončić said. “You got to leave everything on the court. We all believe we can win. We won three (in LA). We all believe.”