Hernández: Kawhi Leonard’s virtuoso playing only has to be the beginning for Clippers

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He was doing what LeBron James couldn’t, which is why the Clippers are alive and the Lakers are not.

Twenty-three months after agreeing to move to the less glamorous and often ridiculed Los Angeles franchise Kawhi Leonard a true Hollywood star.

After all, he played like the player the Clippers admired from afar. After all, he dominated like the player they reorganized their entire team from.

And if the Clippers are to defeat the Dallas Mavericks at the Staples Center in Game 7 of their first round on Sunday, Leonard will almost certainly have his dazzling 45- Repeat points solo act of a 104-97 win in Game 6.

Leonard was Joaquin Phoenix in « Joker » on Friday night. He was Itzhak Perlman in the Disney Concert Hall. He was Richard Pryor on the Sunset Strip.

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Clippers force Game 7 on Kawhi Leonard’s clutch game in 45-point performance

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Kawhi Leonard scored 45 and the Clippers held Luka Doncic at 29 points to force Game 7 with a 104-97 win in Dallas on Friday night.

The stage was his and his only since he was Mavericks guard Luka Doncic dominated at both ends of the pitch. « Great players play great moments and he was huge man, » said Clippers coach Tyronn Lue. « That just shows you who Kawhi Leonard is. »

Leonard achieved high scores in his playoff career, establishing himself two seasons earlier in Game 1 of a second round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. His Toronto Raptors won their first championship this season.

When the Clippers were less than six minutes behind by seven points in the third quarter, Leonard went on a one-man run 11-0.

He sank a middle distance jumper. He emptied a three-pointer. On three more attempts he was fouled and converted any of his free throws. He made three more in transition.

Leonard finished the Mavericks with 12 more points in the fourth quarter in the five-of-five.

Video highlights of the Clippers 104-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks in game 6 of their playoff series on June 4, 2021 in Dallas.

He was also the Clippers’ main defender on Doncic. According to Lue, Leonard wanted the job.

Remove the seven points he scored in the last 52 seconds, with the outcome of the game already decided and Doncic only making eight of 20 shots for 22 points. He didn’t hit a three-pointer until there were less than five minutes left.

« All I could do is get as far in front of him as possible, deny his shots, and just don’t hit him on the [free throw] – Line, ”said Leonard.

Up to this point, the series was defined by Doncic, who averaged 35 points in the last five games. When people began to talk about him in historical terms, Leonard put him back in his place.

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The Clippers are famous for failing Game 7 in the second round, but their history in Game 7 in the first round produced very different results.

Leonard delivered when the stakes were highest. More than one season was in danger. The ambitious project of the Clippers around Leonard and Paul George could have ended with a loss.

Leonard has another year in his contract after this season, but has the right to dissolve it and become a free agent.

Even if Leonard returns, his partnership with George could end if the Clippers ricochet off the postseason prematurely. Failure in two consecutive seasons must make the team’s brain at least rethink the wisdom of a core made up of two similar players. Trading with George becomes a possibility.

This was the setting for a performance for the ages, Leonard at 29 doing things James just couldn’t do at 36.

James dominated the third quarter of the game 4 of the Lakers series against the Phoenix Suns. Leonard had a quarter, then another, and then another. In the second quarter he scored 13 points, in the third 17 and in the fourth quarter.

Just so that his team can avoid an embarrassing elimination in the first round, he has to deliver a few more quarters like this on Sunday.

And if he is to take the Clippers to places they have never reached before, he has to produce several more afterwards.

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Dylan Hernández is a sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Before that, he was the Beat Writer for the Dodgers. Hernandez grew up in South Pasadena and graduated from UCLA in 2002. He then worked for the San Jose Mercury News for five years.

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Hernández: Kawhi Leonard’s virtuoso playing only has to be the beginning for Clippers

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