NBA playoffs

No Kawhi, no problem: Clippers’ defense holds Mavericks in check in Game 1 win


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No Kawhi, no problem: Clippers’ defense holds Mavericks in check in Game 1 win

DUO. Los Angeles Clippers guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates after a dunk on a pass from guard James Harden (1) in the first half during Game 1 of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks at Arena.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Heroes are aplenty for the Clippers as they hurdle the Mavericks even without star Kawhi Leonard, who is out with knee inflammation

James Harden scored 28 points and Ivica Zubac set his playoff career high with 20 while adding 15 rebounds as the Los Angeles Clippers made a statement in Game 1 of their first-round Western Conference series with a 109-97 victory over the visiting Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, April 21 (Monday, April 22, Manila time).

The fourth-seeded Clippers were playing without star Kawhi Leonard because of knee inflammation, but they had plenty to get past the Mavericks, getting 22 points from Paul George and 13 apiece from Terance Mann and Russell Westbrook. Mann had 9 rebounds while Harden had 8 assists.

“Obviously Kawhi puts us well over the top, but we still have more than enough,” George said. “The luxury we have is experience with James, myself, Russ; (Norman Powell) has been in big playoff battles. … We still have experience. We want Kawhi back when he’s ready, but I think we still have enough to push forward.”

Los Angeles’ high-level defense was present from the start, holding Dallas to just 8 points in the second quarter and 30 in the first half. The Clippers led by as many as 29 points in the third quarter.

“Playing without Kawhi, knowing how we had to play, was just huge for us to see,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said about Leonard missing the final eight games of the regular season. “It was a blessing in disguise a little bit. We all know we need Kawhi, but we found a way we had to play.”

Luka Doncic scored 33 points to go along with 13 rebounds and Kyrie Irving added 31 points for the Mavericks. Dallas had an impressive end to the regular season, as it won 16 of 18 games before using mainly reserves over the final two games, both defeats, after its playoff seed was determined.

P.J. Washington scored 11 points for Dallas, which shot 22% from the field in the first half and a mere 9.5% (2 of 21) in the second quarter, when the Clippers turned a 34-22 lead into a 56-30 halftime advantage.

Mavericks center Daniel Gafford played just six minutes in the first half after he rolled his left ankle, but he returned in the second half. Irving was 1 of 6 from the floor in the first half, while Doncic was 4 of 13. The star duo was 1 of 10 from 3-point range in the opening two quarters.

“We were prepared like (Leonard) would play, obviously, but that shouldn’t change our mentality,” Doncic said. “Their mentality was next man up and I think they executed very well. … But it’s the playoffs. We just have to stay focused for 48 minutes.”

Dallas was much improved in the third quarter, scoring 34 points to top its first-half total, but the Mavericks still went into the final period with an 87-64 deficit. Irving had 20 points in the third quarter on 8-of-8 shooting.

“We did dig ourselves a hole, but the positive was we kept fighting there in the second half,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “We expected the Clippers to come out and be physical, we just didn’t respond in that first (half) to their physicality.”

The Mavericks pulled within 90-75 on a three-pointer by Doncic with 8:24 remaining. Los Angeles quickly pushed the advantage to 100-78 on a three-pointer from Mann with 6:12 remaining and coasted to the victory from there.

The Clippers shot 46% from the floor, while the Mavericks finished at 38.8%.

Game 2 of the series is set for Tuesday at Los Angeles. –

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