DALLAS – Don't count out Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers just yet.
Not even a raucous party atmosphere and big early Dallas lead in Luka Doncic's home playoff debut could keep the Clippers from getting back in a first-round series after a two-game flop in LA.
Leonard scored 36 points and George had 22 of his 29 points in the first half to help the Clippers recover from another slow start in a 118-108 victory Friday night. Dallas takes a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 on Sunday night.
“It’s just adversity,” said George, who combined with Leonard to make 24 of 35 shots as LA finished at 58%. “You’ve got to deal with adversity. We didn’t get down on ourselves. We just stayed positive. We rallied. We toughed it out. We just stuck to our principles, kept playing.”
Doncic fed the frenzy of 17,705 fans, more than three times the size of any crowd in a season that started with an empty arena, by making his first four shots, three of them 3-pointers, on his way to a playoff career-high 44 points as Dallas took a 30-11 lead.
LA's 14-0 run erased most of the deficit before the end of the first quarter, and George gave the Clippers their first lead on a 3-pointer in the second quarter as they answered two losses at home to start the series.
“Just stay the course,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “They came out, the crowd was electric. The fans gave them a lot of juice early. Let’s just stick with the game plan. Luka’s going to hit some shots early, which he always does.”
The Clippers ended a five-game postseason losing streak going back to last year's Florida playoff bubble, when LA beat Dallas in six games in the first round before blowing a 3-1 lead in the second round against Denver.
Leonard made his first eight shots — three of them on the 14-0 run that quieted the crowd — and George scored 22 points before halftime on 10-of-13 shooting.
By then, most of the fans were finally sitting after most of them stood, and screamed, the entire first quarter. The Clippers answered any effort by the Mavericks to whip them back into a frenzy late in the first game resembling a full American Airlines Center since March 11, 2020, the night the coronavirus shut down the NBA.
“I wish we could give them a win,” said Doncic, who had nine rebounds and nine assists. “But we'll try again Sunday, and hopefully with the same energy.”
Marcus Morris hit three corner 3s in front of the Dallas bench in the fourth quarter to help the Clippers stay comfortably in front.
Morris turned to talk to the Dallas players a little more with each make, finally getting a technical on the third one after giving LA a 112-100 lead with less than four minutes remaining. He fouled out moments later but had already done his damage with nine of his 15 points in the fourth.
“They had a great night and we did not,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “The crowd was great. They were into it. We've got to get them more into it by finding ways to get more stops and rebounds.”
The first home playoff game for the Mavericks in five years was also the first at American Airlines Center for everyone on their roster except Dwight Powell, who played just three minutes late. The nerves might have shown.
While Doncic already had his third 30-point game of the series before the fourth quarter, the supporting cast wasn't nearly as effective as it was in LA.
Kristaps Porzingis scored six points in the first five minutes but just three the rest of the way. He and Dorian Finney-Smith were 3 of 10 from the field, and Tim Hardaway Jr. was 4 of 14 and scored 12 points after averaging 25 in the first two games.
“I had great looks and I just missed the shots,” Porzingis said. “Frustrated a little bit with the shots not going in. Then again, I can’t really let that affect the rest of my game.”
Clippers: F Serge Ibaka didn't play because of a back injury that sidelined him for 30 consecutive regular-season games before he played the final two. Ibaka played the first two games of the series but was limited to six minutes in Game 2. ... Reggie Jackson was the other LA player in double figures with 16.
Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki attended again after showing up for Game 2 in Los Angeles. He and J.J. Barea, another member of the 2011 championship team, got huge ovations when shown on the video board. ... Maxi Kleber and Jalen Brunson scored 14 points apiece.
Rajon Rondo was booed loudly every time he touched the ball early in his first playoff appearance in Dallas since he was banished by Carlisle during a first-round series in 2015 when the two clashed after a midseason trade brought him from Boston. He left in free agency that summer. Rondo, who won titles with Boston in 2008 and the Lakers last year, scored all six of his points in the fourth quarter and led LA with eight assists.
“This is what I thrive on,” Rondo said. “I love playing against all odds. I love playing against people that doubt me my entire career. It didn’t go well when I was here but at the end of the day I’m still in the game and I was able to rebound from my position here and still win another championship. So my main focus now is on my teammates. Win one game – that’s all that matters.”
Morris' tech for being too chatty toward the Dallas bench wasn't the only chippy moment. Doncic and Patrick Beverley got double technicals after a brief skirmish in the first half, and Dallas center Willie Cauley-Stein was called for a flagrant foul and a technical in separate run-ins with Terance Mann.