Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Mavericks’ Luka Doncic duel down stretch for a fun finish

After a jam-packed Martin Luther King Jr. Day schedule, which featured 14 games over nearly as many hours, the NBA slowed to a crawl on Tuesday with just one game. Thankfully, the schedule makers made it a good one, as Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers rolled into Dallas to take on Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. 

Things got off to a slow start, and there were some unfortunate injuries to Dwight Powell and Patrick Beverley along the way, but the game turned into a thriller down the stretch, with Leonard and Doncic each hitting big shots. In the end, the Clippers managed to hold on and escape with a 110-107 victory that improved their record to 31-13, and gives them, at least for now, sole possession of second place in the Western Conference. 

Here are a few key takeaways from the Clippers’ win:

Slow start gives way to fun finish

Over the first four and a half minutes of the game, the two teams combined for six points. No, not made baskets, total points. No one could buy a shot on either end, as they traded brick after brick. With this being the only game on the schedule, it was looking like we might be in for a brutal night of basketball. By the middle of the fourth quarter, all of that was forgotten. 

Instead, we were treated to a thrilling, and at times maddening final few minutes, as the two teams matched basket for basket, and mistake for a mistake. Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard bounced back from slow starts to put together big second halves, and each hit huge shots down the stretch. Doncic finished with 36 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, while Leonard went for 36 points, 11 rebounds and three steals. 

Injuries put a damper on the game

While the contest became quite exciting towards the end, it was unfortunately marred by a couple of key injuries — though one appears to be much worse than the other. Late in the first quarter, Dwight Powell took a pass from Luka Doncic at the 3-point line, and planted to drive into the paint. He never made it, though, collapsing in agony from what we soon learned was a torn Achilles tendon. That will put Powell out for the rest of the season, and much of next, and is a big loss for the Mavericks. He’s not a big stats guy, so casual fans might not realize his impact, but his energy and hustle on both ends of the floor is huge for Dallas. Whether it’s guarding multiple positions on the defensive end, or being the perfect rim running big to play with Doncic, Powell just fits in so well, and his absence will be notable. 

On the other end, Patrick Beverley was only able to play the first half before leaving the game with a groin injury. It’s not clear yet how serious Beverley’s injury is, but it’s the latest in a string of injuries for not only him, but the Clippers, who were also without Paul George in this game. Beverley has already missed eight games, and the impact of his absence was obvious, as the Mavericks had much more success on the offensive side in the second half when he was stuck in the locker room. 

Clippers crush the Mavs on the offensive glass

For the season, the Mavericks have been an excellent rebounding team, checking in at sixth place in the league with a rebounding rate of 51.1. But they looked nothing of the sort on Tuesday night, as the Clippers punished them on the offensive glass. To be fair, Powell is one of their better rebounders, grabbing 5.7 per game, and he was out for much of the contest. But still, it was a rough night in the paint for the Mavericks. 

Montrezl Harrell, in particular, was a menace, living up to his reputation as a hard worker by grabbing seven offensive rebounds just by himself. His putbacks were key for a Clippers team that shot a putrid 37.1 percent on the night. It’s usually pretty tough to win when you shoot like that, but the Clippers were able to convert 18 second-chance points to just 10 in that department for the Mavericks, and that was vital in getting them the win. 

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