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Kawhi Leonard returns but can’t slow Luka Doncic, who takes over to earn Dallas win, tie series 1-1

Dallas Mavericks defeated the LA Clippers 96-93 to win Game 2 of a first round NBA playoff Basketball game.
Dallas Mavericks defeated the LA Clippers 96-93 to win Game 2 of a first round NBA playoff Basketball game.

LOS ANGELES — On the final play of the third quarter, Luka Doncic picked up a technical foul for barking at a referee after not getting an and-1 call he thought he deserved on a drive. That point surrendered off the Clippers' ensuing free throw put Los Angeles up one heading into the fourth quarter. Mavericks coach Jason Kidd was surprisingly okay with it.

"A lot of times he'll turn that into a positive," Kidd said of Doncic getting a technical, also joking Doncic just wanted to see if he could still get a 'T.' "For whatever reason, he'll channel that energy. He turns it to someone else, and he takes his game to another level. A lot of times when you get a 'T' sometimes it goes the opposite way. it can be a negative but I think a lot of times he's using that to get himself going."

Doncic got going — he made key plays throughout the fourth quarter, setting up teammates and hitting huge shots, like this one to put the Mavericks up nine late.

In what felt like a throwback 90s Eastern Conference playoff game — low-scoring, physical, lots of bricks — Doncic and the Mavericks hit their shots down the stretch and held on for a 96-93 win.

That win ties the series between the Clippers and Mavericks 1-1 as the teams head to Dallas for Game 3 on Friday.

The good news for the Clippers was that Kawhi Leonard returned to the court after missing a little more than three weeks with inflammation in his right knee. Leonard made some defensive plays but looked rusty on offense — 0-of-5 from 3 — and finished with 13 points. After the game he said he felt good and hoped to be more himself next game.

For all the concerns about matchups and rotations, this game came down to the most fundamental skill of basketball — Dallas just shot the ball better. The Clippers had more offensive rebounds and fewer turnovers, they had more fast break points and more points in the paint, and they shot better at the rim. However, Dallas shot 42.4% from 3 to the Clippers 26.7% — the six more made 3-pointers Dallas had made the difference.

Kyrie Irving added 23 for Dallas and P.J. Washington scored 18. James Harden and Paul George each scored 22 for the Clippers.

Dallas came out in Game 2 and matched the Clippers' physicality, and we also saw the Mavericks' defense that was top 10 in the league in March and April. They were active and more focused on the defensive end, particularly not letting Ivica Zubac get going inside (he finished the night 5-of-12 shooting).

"We got pretty stagnant tonight in that fourth quarter," Leonard said. "Now I want to just be able to get a rhythm with the team, then get a win."

The game was decided in the middle of the fourth when Dallas went on a 14-0 run sparked by Doncic. The Mavericks took advantage as the Clippers' defensive decisions got sloppy — going under a pick and sagging off Doncic from 3, the next trip down doubling Doncic by leaving Irving open one pass away for a 3.

"So offensively just being better, playing with more pace, getting into the paint a little bit more," Lue said of what he wants to see with the offense on Friday night in Game 3. "We missed a lot of shots but as far as what we did defensively, I take that every day of the week... To hold this team to 96 points, that's a really great defensive night. We just got to do a better job of scoring the basketball."