Without Kawhi Leonard, Clippers blowout Mavericks 109-97 in playoff opener

James Harden spent the season developing a pick-and-roll chemistry with big man Ivica Zubac. The future Hall of Famer in his first season in Los Angeles is schooling the longest-tenured Clipper.

It paid off in their playoff series opener.

Harden scored 28 points, Zubac had a playoff-career-high 20 points to go with 15 rebounds, and the Clippers defeated Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 109-97 on Sunday.

“Just a perfect game for a big,” Harden said.

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What a first half for James Harden 🤯

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Clippers firing on all cylinders on ABC.#NBAPlayoffs presented by Google Pixel pic.twitter.com/fUtDXnQx0E — NBA (@NBA) April 21, 2024

Coach Tyronn Lue called the game’s first play for Zubac, and the Clippers were off to a dominating start.

“When I’m out there, I’m going to try to punish them in the post,” said Zubac, in his sixth season with the team. “I want to be the best version I can be for this team.”

Harden hit 6 of 11 3-pointers and had eight assists. Paul George added 22 points. The Clippers outdid the Mavs at their own 3-point game, making 18 of 36 from long range to 10 of 33 for Dallas.

“We’re going to be very good any time Zu is playing at that level,” George said.

The Clippers had five players in double figures without Kawhi Leonard. The two-time NBA Finals MVP hasn’t played since March 31 because of inflammation in his surgically repaired right knee. Russell Westbrook finished with 13 points and fellow reserve guard Norman Powell played 30 minutes.

“We obviously want Kawhi back when he’s ready,” George said. “The luxury we have is just experience with James, myself, Russ, Norm’s been in big playoff battles.”

The teams were meeting in the playoffs for the third time in five years, with the Clippers having won both previous series.

Doncic led the Mavs with 33 points and 13 rebounds. Kyrie Irving had 31 points and seven rebounds, but the Mavs got little from their supporting cast.

“Luka was finding the open guy. We just didn’t shoot well,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. “I like the way we played in the second half and we got to build on that.”

Trailing by 22, the Mavs outscored the Clippers 10-2 to close within 102-88. Dallas was helped by a technical on Zubac and a flagrant-1 foul for his subsequent actions after a second free throw attempt by Doncic. In all, it cost the Clippers four points after Doncic scored when the Mavs retained possession.

“I didn’t have a lot of technicals and flagrants in my life,” Zubac said. “I don’t know how I got both on the same play.”

Harden hit another 3-pointer, George scored four in a row and the Clippers closed out the win.

“Very important to start off on the right note,” George said. “You want to take care of business at home.”

The Mavs revived themselves in the third, when Doncic and Irving (20 points) combined for 29 of their 34 points. But they still trailed 87-64 going into the fourth. George’s 3-pointer put the Clippers ahead by 29, their largest lead.

The Clippers dominated the first half, leading 56-30 at the break. It was the fewest points they’ve allowed in either half of a playoff game and a first-half playoff low for the Mavs, who were outscored 22-8 in the second quarter when they made just two field goals.

Harden scored 20 points in the half, including nine in a row in the second quarter. He made his first four 3s.

Doncic and Irving were a combined 5 of 19 from the floor in the half. Doncic had all of his 11 in the first quarter; Irving had two of his six points in the second.

Terance Mann and Amir Coffey, who started in place of Leonard, led a Clippers defense that held Dallas to 9 of 40 field-goal shooting and 2 of 18 from 3-point range in the half.

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