LA Clippers coach Tyronn Lue stated his workforce seemed prefer it was locked in throughout a walk-through earlier than Sunday’s 126-111 win to shut out their Western Convention first-round playoff collection in opposition to the Dallas Mavericks in entrance of seven,342 followers at Staples Middle. After a Recreation 7 win, the top coach or players all discuss approximately a glance the team has — a sure look that lets everybody know they’re going to be prepared for the second.
And he was proper, because the Clippers had the form of sport that reminded everybody why they have been picked as title contenders since acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George two summers in the past.
In Leonard’s case, nonetheless, the look by no means adjustments. He would possibly present just a little fireplace after an enormous dunk. He would possibly present just a little disappointment after lacking a game-tying 3-pointer, like on the finish of the Clippers’ Recreation 5 loss to the Mavs.
He would possibly even look mortal at occasions, tending to the myriad accidents he has handled in recent times.
However Leonard has earned his fame as one of many NBA’s elite playoff performers — and earned his two NBA Finals MVP trophies — due to the poise with which he handles video games and moments like this.
Leonard completed with 28 factors, 10 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals on Sunday. In response to ESPN Stats & Information, Leonard is the fourth participant in NBA historical past to attain 200 or extra factors on at the least 60% capturing from the sector in a playoff collection.
He additionally was the Clippers’ simplest defender on Mavericks famous person Luka Doncic, holding him to 0.80 factors per play as his major defender on this collection. That is simply the fewest for any Clippers defender in opposition to Doncic — and it takes an amazing quantity of vitality. However the Clippers had no selection however to place Leonard in that function as soon as they had been dealing with elimination.
That’s as a result of Doncic is now one in every of three gamers to lose back-to-back playoffs regardless of averaging 30 factors, 5 boards and 5 assists in each collection. Tracy McGrady (2001-02) and Michael Jordan (1986-87) are the one others to undergo defeat regardless of such large performances.
“Oh, man, you already know, he did all the things,” Leonard stated of Doncic. “Shooting it very effectively from 3 for certain off the dribble photographs. , simply doing all of it for his workforce. he is a fantastic participant, and you will see him for a few years to come back. He performs at his personal tempo, and he makes it look straightforward on the market.”
George echoed the emotions.
“S—, he was a star final matchup too,” he stated of Doncic. “He performed off the charts final 12 months within the playoffs. And to be trustworthy, at a younger age like that, you knew he may get higher — knew there was room for enchancment. After all. He was much more superior. He performs with a lot confidence. His sport is past his age. He can decide up and skim nearly any protection.”
Lue stated after Recreation 6 that the Clippers workers determined to maneuver Leonard onto Doncic, and Leonard embraced the problem.
But it surely‘s Leonard’s psychological toughness that helped the Clippers get by means of a collection that appeared as mentally and emotionally exhausting because it was bodily draining.
Athletes will inform you there is a muscle reminiscence to performing underneath strain. However Leonard’s strategy is totally different. He would not assume again on any of his earlier playoff performances earlier than huge video games like Sunday’s Recreation 7 or draw confidence from the moments and video games he has delivered prior to now. Every sport, he stated, is its personal problem.
“I imply, it is like that for me,” Leonard stated. “I do not understand how different gamers assume, however only for me, it is approximately the scenario that is in entrance of you. Simply since you performed nice in, no matter, 9 Recreation 7s, doesn’t suggest you play nice in sport 10 and vice versa. It is all approximately the second.
“Typically once you‘re overconfident, you play unhealthy, and generally once you‘re down on your self, you play good. For me, it is approximately specializing in that second, having enjoyable and enjoying arduous. That is it. It is a sport of basketball.”
There is a lesson in there approximately controlling the second, not letting it overwhelm him, that explains Leonard’s distinctive wiring and why it has led to a lot success within the largest moments through the years.
It is why signing Leonard was such a landmark achievement for the Clippers two summers in the past. Successful within the playoffs is not simply approximately expertise; it is approximately having the psychological toughness to win a sport or a collection like this.
The Clippers did not simply pull out a seven-game collection in opposition to a budding famous person whose sport appears able to take over the league. They pulled out a seven-game collection through which they misplaced the primary three video games at residence, confronted withering criticism and needed to confront all their demons from final season’s playoff meltdown.
“I am not pondering approximately final 12 months,” Leonard stated. “I am pondering approximately what we’re doing immediately and what the following step is tomorrow. I am glad that we confirmed character and we confirmed poise happening 2-0 happening the highway, and that Recreation 3, that meant lots to me this season. Clearly, it bought us to this subsequent spherical, but it surely‘s all approximately this 12 months.”
The Clippers gained this collection as a result of they did not panic. Lue determined to go small after the primary two losses at residence and caught with that alignment regardless of the Mavericks going further tall by inserting 7-foot-4 Boban Marjanovic to the beginning lineup in Recreation 5. Dallas gained that sport, placing an amazing quantity of strain on Lue to counter.
As an alternative, the Clippers coach caught with the small lineup, trusting in his gamers the work they’d put in all 12 months. Los Angeles had been the most effective 3-point capturing workforce within the league this season (41%) however had shot simply 35% from behind the arc (74-for-209) within the first six video games.
The Clippers’ 20 3-pointers within the first-round finale had been essentially the most in a Recreation 7 in NBA historical past. Marcus Morris Sr.’s seven made 3s tied Stephen Curry for essentially the most in a Recreation 7.
Lue additionally knew when to make adjustments. Rajon Rondo helped the Clippers win Video games 3 and 4 and was +41 heading into Recreation 5. However when Dallas adjusted the best way it was defending Rondo, Lue swapped in younger level guard Terance Mann — who responded with 13 factors in Recreation 7 — and rode with starter Reggie Jackson, whose scorching hand (25 factors in Recreation 6, 15 factors in Recreation 7) helped the Clippers win the ultimate two video games.
“They undoubtedly bought us war-ready. It is a fantastic workforce we performed. Unbelievable famous person in Luka. They pushed us,” George stated of the Mavs. “However you already know, we caught in there. We performed for each other. We performed arduous, and you already know, we proceed on our season. Onto the following.”
There was a lot that went incorrect in Los Angeles’ three losses that may go incorrect once more. The Clippers coaches and gamers could be the primary to inform you they have not carried out something but.
However with Leonard again destroying at each ends of the courtroom, as Doncic so eloquently put it after Leonard’s elegant Recreation 6 efficiency on Friday evening, the Clippers have that look once more.