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NBA Playoffs: Mavericks even series despite return of Clippers star Kawhi Leonard

In Sports
April 24, 2024

Kawhi Leonard was available for Tuesday’s playoff game. Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Clippers, so was Luka Dončić.

The Dallas Mavericks star led his team to a 96-93 win over the Clippers in Leonard’s return from injury for Game 2, evening the first-round series at 1-1 as it heads to Dallas. Dončić finished with 32 points, nine assists and six rebounds.

Game 3 is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. CT (ESPN).

Tuesday’s game was a defensive struggle until the fourth quarter, with the Clippers in particularly struggling to shoot the ball with any sort of consistency. They finished the game 32-of-87 (36.8%) from the field and 8-of-30 (26.7) from 3-point range, and the game could have been a lot worse had they not had a solid game when it came to turnovers (eight) and offensive rebounds (14).

The Mavericks held a lead for the vast majority of the game, but the Clippers were always there. They took a lead at one point in every quarter, but the Mavericks responded with a considerable run at every moment.

Dončić delivered what sure seemed like a dagger with about 87 seconds left in the game.

The Clippers still had a little life in them, though, cutting the Mavs’ lead to as little as three points with 20 seconds remaining. A buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Paul George left the score a little closer than the game appeared.

Leonard was quiet in his return by his standards, posting 15 points, seven rebounds and four steals in 35 minutes. He had missed the last eight games of the regular season and Game 1 against the Mavericks on Sunday due to lingering knee inflammation.

Head coach Tyronn Lue confirmed his status to reporters Tuesday evening.

“He’s checked every box, and the medical’s doing a great job just making sure he checks those boxes,” Lue said. “We’re never putting a guy on the floor that’s not ready to go, so he’s ready to go.”

Leonard was questionable for Game 1 until the Clippers ruled him out prior to tip. He participated in shoot-around Tuesday morning, raising hopes in Los Angeles of his availability for Game 2. The Clippers made the call after pregame warm-ups.

The Clippers thrived in a 109-97 Game 1 win despite Leonard’s absence. James Harden scored 20 first-half points in a 28-point effort as the Clippers held the Mavericks to 30 points on 22.5% shooting in the first half. Los Angeles raced to a 56-30 halftime lead, then thwarted a Dallas comeback effort in the second half. The Mavericks never challenged in a dominant Clippers win.

Kawhi Leonard missed the last eight games of the regular season and Game 2 against the Mavericks with knee inflammation. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Kawhi Leonard missed the last eight games of the regular season and Game 1 against the Mavericks with knee inflammation. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

The Clippers, of course, are better off with Leonard in the lineup. A six-time All-Star, seven-time All-Defensive team selection and five-time All-NBA selection, Leonard is one of the best two-way players in basketball.

He averaged 23.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks per game this season while shooting 52.5% from the floor and 41.7% from 3-point distance. Until his knee issue, he had largely avoided the injury concerns that have plagued his career. He played in 68 regular-season games, his most since the 2016-17 season with the San Antonio Spurs.

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