Clippers blowout Dallas with absent Leonard in series opener

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
James Harden leads the Clippers with 28 points in a lopsided win over the Mavericks in Game 1.

LOS ANGELES – The mood? Dampened. The skies? Seemingly cloudy and grey. At least, that was the consensus across NBA Twitter when the Los Angeles Clippers announced star guard Kawhi Leonard would be missing the first round series opener with Dallas.

In usual Clippers fashion the team exemplified “expect the unexpected” at Arena Sunday afternoon when the team dominated over the Mavericks, 109-97.

When LA ruled out Leonard before tip-off, the Clippers knew they would have to take on its playoff mantra, “All Hands, and step up in the star’s absence. They did just that. 

The Clippers only allowed two made field goals from Dallas during the second quarter to keep a whopping 26-point lead at halftime. They finished with five players in double figures.

Sunday kicked off the third playoff series between the two teams for the third time in five years, with the Clippers having won both previous series.

“These two teams have history,” said Mavericks coach Jason Kidd ahead of Game 1. They’ve had great playoff series. I think both teams are different. … This is an incredible series when you talk about star power.”

The Clippers never trailed during Sunday’s bout while the Mavericks found themselves losing by as much as 22 points.

Here are takeaways from Sunday’s Game 1:

Leonard ruled out for Game 1 with knee injury

The Clippers initially listed Kawhi Leonard as questionable with right knee inflammation on their official injury report, leaving fans left in anticipation. 

Head coach Tyronn Lue confirmed in his pregame press conference Sunday that Leonard would not play in the series opener. 

The superstar forward did not take any contact in practices leading up to Game 1 with Dallas, which created room for doubt that Leonard would be ready to play by Sunday afternoon. When it comes to Game 2 Tuesday, Lue says the team isn’t sure if Leonard will be available then either.

“We prepared as if he was gonna play until he was ruled out just recently,” Kidd said. “But we also prepared if he was gonna be out. We’re prepared on both ends.”

Sunday marked Leonard’s ninth straight game sidelined for LA since he last played on March 31. He played in 68 games this regular season, his most since 2016-17.

Injuries have plagued Leonard’s playoff run before. Last postseason he played in Games 1 and 2 before missing the final three of the first round series with the Phoenix Suns due to a torn meniscus.

“It’s tough for him but he’s getting better,” Lue said. “But he’s frustrated as he should be.”

Clippers take command of first half

When news broke about Leonard’s status for the playoff opener it many assumed it was safe to count out a shorthanded Clippers team. Those same people were proved wrong by halftime.

LA had the 56-30 advantage after holding the Mavericks to zero field goals in the last seven minutes of the second quarter. The Clippers shot 46.7% from the field and beyond the arc while keeping Dallas at 22.5% from the field and only 11.1% from deep. 

Much of LA’s success across the first two quarters could also be credited to James Harden, who  posted 20 points with 3 assists and 2 blocks in the period alone. He finished with 6 of 11 three-pointers – capping a vintage Harden performance.

Harden also solely out shot the entire Mavericks deep from deep in the first half, going 4-6 while Dallas went 2-18.

The Clippers took control of the second quarter outscoring Dallas 22-8 in the second quarter. Those eight points from the Mavericks are the fewest amount LA has allowed in any playoff quarter in franchise history. It was also only the 13th time in NBA history that a team allowed eight or less points in a quarter of a playoff game.

Game 2 is set for Tuesday with a 7 p.m. tip-off on the Clippers home court.