Clippers hold off Mavericks, tie first-round series

© Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
James Harden and Paul George lead the Clippers to a Game 5 win in Dallas without Kawhi Leonard, who may be out for the series.

The Clippers found themselves in familiar territory ahead of Game 4 of their NBA first-round playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks. And this time it was without injured star Kawhi Leonard. 

Despite Leonard’s absence, the Clippers held off a the Mavericks rally that wiped a lead of more than 30 points and pulled off a 116-111 victory at American Airlines Center on Sunday.

James Harden and Paul George combined for 66 points, helping the Clippers tie the best-of-seven series at 2-2. Terance Mann added 11 points behind 3 of 6 3-pointers and Norman Powell scored 11 points off the bench with 3 of 5 3-pointers.

Game 4 nearly came down the wire after the Mavericks’ furious rally, trailing by 31 points with 30 minutes left to play.

“We knew they would make a run,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “But also we didn’t think we’d come into this building and be up 31 points either.

“So I told our team, ‘Just get the win, however you’ve got to get it.’ In the playoffs, it don’t matter how you win.”

Turning point: With 4:39 left in the game, Harden broke a 98-98 tie behind the first of what would be three consecutive baskets in the paint.

Kyrie Irving responded to Harden’s field goals with a layup with 2:15 left and gave Dallas a one-point lead. But vintage Harden was too hot, and his floaters sealed a Game 4 win for LA.

The Clippers reached a 31-point lead over the Mavericks during the second quarter after going on a 16-8 scoring run. The Mavericks began rallying back, but LA still had the 17-point advantage at halftime.

What it means: The tied series means the Clippers reclaimed home-court advantage for Game 5.

Sunday’s Game 4 was also the series’ first in which both teams scored more than 100 points.

Hits: Harden not only was the difference maker in Game 4 for the Clippers, but has been the whole series. He is averaging 27.5 points and seven assists while shooting an impressive 54-50-91 through four games so far in the first round. 

Harden went off Sunday afternoon, making 6 for 8 from the field during the fourth quarter. According to Justin Russo of Substack, it was the highest field-goal percentage of his playoff career in a fourth quarter.  

George also made a difference by playing the entire second half for a series-high 42 minutes, 50 seconds.

Misses: Prior to Sunday’s tip-off Clippers president Lawrence Frank told reporters Leonard would be out for Game 4 and sidelined indefinitely with an inflamed right knee. The knee is the same one the all-star guard had surgically repaired, and it’s inflammation took him out of Game 1 of the series. 

Leonard returned for Game 2, but was far from his normal healthy self, finishing 7 of 17 from the field with seven rebounds in 35 minutes. In LA’s Game 3 loss he scored nine points with nine rebounds in 25 minutes. 

Frank described the move as an “organizational decision” that was made to ensure the superstar’s future health, per Law Murray of the Athletic. He added the inflammation has been difficult to manage and that there is no current timeline for Leonard’s return.

Stat of the game: As much as Clippers may hate to admit it — the numbers are better without Leonard 

Without Leonard, the Clippers 3-point shooting has flourished, making 18 each in both Game 1 and Game 4. With Leonard, they made 18 3-pointers in Games 2 and 3 combined.  

The team also managed to jump out on big early leads in Games 1 and 4. In Game 1, they led 34-22 after one quarter. In Sunday’s Game 4, they led 39-16 after one quarter. Both without Leonard.

Up next: The Clippers return to Crypto.Com Arena for Game 5 at 7 p.m. Wednesday.