Dallas Mavericks power forward Maxi Kleber had no regrets about ending up on the wrong end of a Kawhi Leonard highlight but believed the LA Clippers‘ reaction to the spectacular dunk crossed the line.
Kleber fell on his backside on the baseline after Leonard’s thunderous dunk over him in transition with 3:59 remaining in the third quarter of Saturday’s Game 1. Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. celebrated the dunk by flexing and yelling toward Kleber as they walked within a few feet of him.
“I think the staredown should’ve been a technical foul, in my opinion, but that’s not my decision,” Kleber said after the Mavericks’ practice Sunday. “I didn’t really care. I get up and try to keep playing, and we kept playing. Stuff like that happens. Obviously, it was an amazing dunk.”
The dunk pulled the Clippers to within two points, but the Mavs pulled away late in the fourth quarter for a 113-103 win.
After stealing the ball from Mavs guard Tim Hardaway Jr., Leonard built up a full head of steam before Kleber attempted to block his shot. Kleber said he couldn’t take a foul to stop the fast break because he already had three fouls, but he had no hesitation about challenging Leonard at the rim.
“This is the playoffs, so I’m going to try to contest a shot,” said Kleber, Dallas’ primary defender against Leonard. “I don’t care about [being on a highlight]. You don’t try to give up easy baskets.
“I honestly didn’t expect him to jump up and dunk, but it’s not going to hold me back, because at the end of the day, every possession counts. I couldn’t foul. I would do it every time again.”
The crowd of 7,000 went wild after the dunk, and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle called a timeout in part to attempt to halt any momentum created by the play.
“The reality is a play like that, it gets the building going, but it’s two points,” Carlisle said. “We’ve just got to respond the right way by executing the next offensive play and the next defensive play. That game at that time could have gone either way, so I really liked the way we kept our composure, kept executing and were able to make some plays.”