Kawhi Leonard is ready for what comes in the bubble.
The depth of the Los Angeles Clippers kept the Dallas Mavericks guessing for most of the night, and the NBA’s reigning Finals MVP delivered whenever the game necessitated his dominance in a 126-111 victory. The Clippers held onto second place in the Western Conference and all but locked the Mavericks into the seventh seed. Thursday’s game was a preview of what a first-round series between the two teams might would look like — highly entertaining, but tilted heavily in favor of a Clippers team still far from full strength.
Doc Rivers said the Clippers are at a “6 or 7” on a scale of 1-10 of being playoff-ready. Says at this point he’d settle for having his whole team available for a practice - has only happened three times so far this season.— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) August 7, 2020
Leonard looks fully loaded, though. He tallied 29 points, six rebounds and five assists, and often looked to be operating at three-quarters speed, except when the Clippers needed separation. Paul George added 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists against Dallas’ shallow wing rotation, and Ivica Zubac absolutely owned the paint, totaling 21 points on 10-for-10 shooting and 15 rebounds. The Clips are just relentless.
Kawhi Leonard says he's in "lock-in time".— Farbod Esnaashari (@Farbod_E) August 7, 2020
Yet, they were without Sixth Man of the Year candidate Montrezl Harrell, who is tending to a family emergency outside Orlando, and All-Defensive guard Patrick Beverley (calf strain). Three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams also looked rusty following his chicken wing expedition and ensuing absence.
There is no end to the Clippers’ rotation, but coach Doc Rivers will have to find one. He told Stan Van Gundy prior to the game that one of his talented guards — either Landry Shamet or Reggie Jackson — could be the odd man out in the playoffs. There is not a team in the league that would not want that luxury.
But make no mistake: Leonard will dictate his team’s success, as he did last season en route to a championship, and as he showed he can do with ease after four months away from competitive basketball.
Rick Carlisle said Clippers “went through us and jumped over us too many times.” As much as the Mavs are at an experience disadvantage, biggest concern in likely playoff matchup might be Clips’ ability to physically overwhelm them.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) August 7, 2020
The Mavericks took a 52-47 lead with 2:36 to play in the first half on a beautiful pass from Luka Doncic that found a cutting Kristaps Porzingis for a dunk. But Leonard responded with 12 straight points for the Clips on either side of halftime, turning the score in their favor for good. Leonard just took whatever he needed.
Porzingis drilled back-to-back three-pointers to trim what had ballooned to a 12-point second-half spread down to a single possession three minutes into the fourth quarter, and fellow floor-spacing Mavericks big Maxi Kleber soon tied the game at 101 apiece with 6:41 remaining. So, Leonard went back to work.
Zubac cleaned up a Leonard miss in the void created by all the attention paid to the superstar, and Leonard drilled a three-pointer on the ensuing possession to seize control. The floodgates opened until Leonard decided to close them — only after a long pull-up jumper he took for kicks and an assist to a wide-open Marcus Morris Sr. pushed their lead to 15. Doncic and Porzingis combined for 59 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, and it was nowhere near enough to contend with an undermanned Clippers team in the end.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports: