KAWHI LEONARD had 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists to lead the Los Angeles Clippers over the Dallas Mavericks 126-111 on Sunday, punching their ticket to the second round of the NBA playoffs.
The Clippers captured a seventh-game showdown to win the best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series 4-3 with the first home-team win of the matchup.
Los Angeles had to withstand a 46-point performance from Mavericks star Luka Doncic in the deciding contest, finally cashing in on a home court edge after the road teams had won six times, the first series in NBA history the home team had failed to win any of the first six games.
“We never gave up. We wanted to get better and we did it, especially on the defensive end,” Leonard said.
Marcus Morris scored 23 points and Paul George tallied 22 and dished out 10 assists for the fourth-seeded Clippers in front of a pandemic-limited crowd of 7,300 at Staples Center arena in downtown Los Angeles.
The Clippers advanced to the second round to face the top-seeded Utah Jazz with game one on Tuesday in Salt Lake City.
The NBA will crown a new champion this season after the Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated on Thursday.
“It was a total team win. We wanted this moment,” said Clippers coach Tyronn Lue. “It was a great test for us on making us battle tested going into the second round. That was a great win for us.”
Doncic continued his superb play in the series despite playing with a sore neck, which he hurt in game four. He added 14 assists and seven rebounds Sunday in his first game seven in just the second playoff series of his young career. The Mavericks also lost to the Clippers in the first round last season.
“We gave everything,” Doncic said. “I’m very proud of this team. Obviously I hate losing. We hate losing, but I’m proud of my team.”
Dorian Finney-Smith had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Kristaps Porzingis finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Mavericks in the loss.
At Philadelphia, Trae Young scored 35 points and the Atlanta Hawks held off a late rally to beat the 76ers 128-124 in the opening game of their second-round NBA playoff series.
Young, who averaged 29 points a game in the first round of the playoffs, pushed the visitors to a 19-point lead with eight minutes remaining only for Atlanta to struggle down the stretch and barely hang on for the victory.
The Hawks grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final series with game two at Philadelphia on Tuesday.
The series winner will face Milwaukee or Brooklyn to determine a berth in next month’s NBA Finals.
Bogdan Bogdanovic and John Collins each added 21 points for the Hawks while Clint Capella added 10 points and 11 rebounds for Atlanta.
Cameroonian center Joel Embiid started for the Sixers after missing the final game of Philadelphia’s first-round series against Washington with a right knee injury.
Embiid scored a game-high 39 points with nine rebounds and four assists while Seth Curry added 21 points and Tobias Harris had 20 points and 10 rebounds and Australian guard Ben Simmons had 17 points and 10 assists.
Young, who also passed off 10 assists, scored 12 points in the first quarter as Atlanta jumped ahead 42-27 and he finished with 25 in the first half as the Hawks seized a 74-54 half-time lead.“They hit us in the mouth to start the game,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “They were the more aggressive team. They were the more physical team. They got off to a better start.”