Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers made it an NBA-record six straight victories for the road team in a playoff series.
Now they have to figure out how to beat Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks at home in a Game 7 to avoid another bitter postseason disappointment.
Leonard tied his playoff career high with 45 points and the Clippers beat the Mavericks 104-97 on Friday night, winning for the third time in front of a raucous Dallas crowd more than three times bigger than any during the regular season.
This time it was a tense finish keyed by the two-time NBA Finals MVP after double-digit LA victories in the first two games in Dallas, and coming off the Clippers’ third straight loss at home.
“Great players perform in big moments,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “It just shows you who Kawhi Leonard is.”
Only one other seven-game series had started with five straight victories by the road team. Now Leonard and Paul George get their first chance to eliminate the team they beat in six games in the first round in the Florida playoff bubble last August. Game 7 is Sunday in Los Angeles.
“Just another basketball game,” Leonard said. “Like we say, if we don’t want to go home, pay attention to details, have faith, shooting the ball with confidence. If you do that, you can live with the results.”
Luka Doncic scored 29 points but was just 2 of 9 from 3-point range as the LA defense turned up the pressure in key moments and held Dallas to 29% shooting in the fourth quarter.
Tim Hardaway Jr. had 23 points but missed a 3-pointer and a layup in the closing minutes.
After coming home with a 2-0 series lead and losing twice, the Mavericks lost a close-out game for just the second time in seven games under coach Rick Carlisle.
Now Dallas has to bounce back from the disappointment of another missed opportunity on the home court, still looking the first playoff series victory since the franchise’s only championship 10 years ago.
“We’ve done it before already in this series,” said Kristaps Porzingis, the European sidekick to Doncic who was relegated to a secondary role on offense and finished with just seven points on seven shots in 31 minutes. “We feel like we can beat them, and we’ll see who’s right and who’s wrong.”
The Mavericks were down 90-88 when Maxi Kleber missed an open corner 3. Leonard scored the next eight LA points, including back-to-back 3-pointers for a 98-90 lead with 1:41 remaining.
A night after the other Los Angeles team was eliminated when LeBron James and the Lakers lost to Phoenix, the Clippers trailed for long stretches before going in front for good with six minutes left on a jumper by George, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Reggie Jackson scored 14 of his 25 points in the first quarter to help keep LA close early. Leonard took over from there.
The five-time All-Star made all five of his shots in the fourth quarter, including the consecutive 3s, as LA shot 63% in the final quarter. Leonard was 18 of 25 overall and 5 of 9 from deep.
“He destroyed us,” Doncic said. “He had a hell of a game. That’s what he does.”
Leonard’s strong finish came after guarding Doncic at the start and plenty of time thereafter with Lue saying the Clippers needed to slow the Dallas sensation in the first quarter after Doncic scored 19 in the first on the way to 42 in Game 5.
“He’s been a big factor defensively throughout the series,” Carlisle said. “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.”
The biggest lead for either team from the middle of the second quarter to the end of the third was a seven-point Dallas edge in the third.
The Clippers erased that deficit quickly with their best defensive intensity of the game to that point, sparking an 11-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from Leonard.
LA left Dorian Finney-Smith open for a 3-pointer that helped Dallas go back in front, and the Mavericks later scored the final five points of the third for a 77-73 lead.
Clippers: Serge Ibaka missed his fourth consecutive game with back spasms. The issue kept him out of 30 straight games in the regular season before he played the final two games leading into the playoffs and the first two in this series. Ibaka made the trip for Game 5 after staying in LA for the first two games in Dallas. … After Leonard, Jackson and George, the next-highest LA scorer was Nicolas Batum with six.
Mavericks: Carlisle’s only other close-out loss as coach of the Mavericks was in Game 7 at San Antonio in the first round in 2014, when the Mavericks weren’t expected to last that long. … Boban Marjanovich scored 12 points as Dallas went with a big lineup again.