Clippers fall to Dallas, even NBA first-round series

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
The Mavericks spoiled Kawhi Leonard's anticipated return for Los Angeles, 96-93.

LOS ANGELES — Clippers coach Tyronn Lue announced Kawhi Leonard was available for LA in Game 2 against Dallas on Tuesday night.

Unfortunately for the star guard, so was the whole Mavericks roster.

Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving combined for 55 points as they handed the Clippers their first loss of the first-round playoffs series, 96-93. 

After struggling for a majority of Game 1 and shooting 30% from the field, the Mavericks shot 42% both from the field and from deep in Game 2.

Turning point: Dallas spurted on a 14-0 run to take an 81-73 lead with 5:18 left to play. Doncic hit a 3-pointer with 1:26 left that gave the Mavericks a 90-81 lead, and they kept it from there.

The Clippers trailed 45-41 at halftime after the Mavericks put on a more dominant performance than LA saw in the series opener. LA outscored the Dallas in the third, though, 25-20  to take a 66-65 lead into the fourth.

What it means: Dallas ties up the opening playoff series with LA, 1-1 before heading to its home court for the next two games.

Hits: Despite the loss the Clippers had a great game when it came to defense, only collecting eight turnovers and grabbing 14 offensive rebounds.

Both Paul George and James Harden led the way for the Clippers with 22 points each. George became the Clippers’ franchise leader in 3-pointers in the playoffs.

Misses: A three-point deficit at the end of Game 2 could have certainly been a lot worse because of faulty shooting from LA.

The Clippers finished the game 32-of-87 (36.8%) from the field and were even worse outside of the arc, going 8-of-30 (26.7%) from 3-point range.

The shooting woes especially affected James Harden. In Sunday afternoon’s Game Harden shot 6-11, but in Game 2 he finished 2-10 from deep. Despite it, James did make league history Monday night by passing Magic Johnson for 10th on the league’s all-time playoff free throws made list.

Stat of the game: Leonard made his return to the court after missing three weeks of gametime with knee inflammation. 

He was seen taking warm-up shots prior to tip-off, which sparked rumors he could return after missing LA’s last eight regular-season games. Lue confirmed those speculations to reporters in his pregame press conference. 

“Yeah, he’s done all the necessary things to get on the floor,” Lue said. “And so he’s checked every box and the medical [team] has done a great job of just making sure he checks those boxes.

“We’ll never put a guy on the floor that’s not ready to go, and so he’s ready to go.”

The star guard was seemingly quiet in his return as he collected 15 points, seven rebounds and four steals in 35 minutes. The performance was shy of his season average, 23.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

Leonard’s return was unpredictable as he didn’t participate in any contact sessions in practice leading up to Game 2. Yet, the star guard’s return means LA has a looming threat on both sides of the ball for the rest of the series. 

“You’re talking about a future Hall of Famer,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “He’s got to be accounted for on both ends, no matter how long he’s out. If he’s playing, he’s ready to go.”

Up next: Dallas has home-court advantage for Game 3 and 4 at American Airlines Center. 

The Clippers will have to take on a Mavericks team that went 25-16 at home in the regular season. Game 3 and 4 tip are scheduled for Friday and Sunday, respectively.