DALLAS - With the possibility of closing out the series, the Dallas Mavericks couldn't quite get the job done. Kawhi Leonard, on the other hand, did everything he could to put the LA Clippers over the top.
"He destroyed us,'' said Luka Doncic of Kawhi's work in L.A.'s 104-97 Game 6 win at the AAC.
It didn't start out that way, though. Leonard took on more of a facilitator role against the Mavericks' zone defense in the first quarter -- finishing with as many assists (3) as he had points (3)... Dallas held a narrow 28-26 lead at that point.
The state of the game rapidly changed in the second quarter when Leonard no longer was facing a zone scheme. He did a little bit of everything to get his buckets and chipped in 13 points on 6/8 (75%) from the floor and 1/2 (50.0%) from the perimeter.
With Leonard shouldering more of the scoring load in the second period, the Clippers ended up holding a 48-45 advantage at halftime. The events that took place from this point on was that of a Hall-of-Famer, simply put.
"We have to do whatever it takes to get a win if we don't want to go home," Leonard said about playing while facing elimination. "It's on us."
Leonard recorded his highest-scoring quarter of the game in the third period with 17 points. He did so while converting 6/9 (66.7%) attempts from the floor and 2/4 (50%) from three-point range.
The Mavericks reverted back to using their zone scheme with Boban Marjanovic and Kristaps Porzingis on the floor. Leonard used this as an opportunity to initially get a trio of makes as a cutter, two being as a flasher and one baseline cut for a thunderous dunk. Then, he picked his spots for pull-up jumpers.
Despite Leonard's robust scoring contributions in the third quarter, the Clippers were outscored by 7 points while he was on the floor. The Mavericks managed, and in the quarter, overall. Dallas led 77-73 at this point of the contest.
To Paul George's credit, he stepped up to lead the Clippers' bench unit in the early stages of the fourth quarter while both Kawhi Leonard and Luka Doncic were on the sidelines. However, Leonard was needed to put the game away from that point on.
Already having 33 points through three quarters, Leonard chipped in another 12 points to add to his total. He did so while going a perfect 5/5 from the floor and 2/2 from beyond the arc. He elevated his game in ways you'd expect a superstar down the stretch of the team's biggest game of the season to date.
"We got the baddest man on the planet in the fourth," Clippers guard Reggie Jackson said of Leonard. "He was out there doing what he does. Being special for us."
The Mavericks let him get a rhythm catch-and-shoot look in the gap to begin his time on the floor. That's all he needed...he converted on a mid-range step-back bringing it up in transition, a mid-range pull-up in iso, and then a pair of 3-point step-backs out on an island.
The level of execution that Leonard provided the Clippers placed him in exclusive company. Per ESPN Stats & Info, he joins LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain and Jamal Murray as the fourth player in NBA postseason history to drop 45+ points while converting at least 70% from the field.
Keep in mind, Leonard did all of that scoring, not only with great efficiency, but did so while being the primary defender to check Luka Doncic throughout the game, who was largely held in check before for his usual standards, before scoring 7 of his 29 points in garbage time before losing 107-97.
"He played 42 minutes and guarding their best player, who is a hell of a player, for the whole game," Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said of Leonard's performance. "That just shows you who Kawhi Leonard is."
When thinking about the contributions that Kawhi Leonard provided on both ends, he may have provided one of the top two-way performances in the history of the NBA playoffs. When factoring in it was achieved while facing elimination, and on the road...there is that added flair.
The Dallas Mavericks will need to find a way to better hold Kawhi Leonard in check when they face the LA Clippers for Game 7 on Sunday at Staples Center. Or else, their season could come to an end after holding a 3-2 series lead entering Game 6.