NBA

NBA playoffs 2021: Kawhi lauded for leading Clippers to Game 7 win over Doncic-inspired Mavs

By Sports Desk June 07, 2021

Reggie Jackson paid tribute to Kawhi Leonard for instigating the Los Angeles Clippers' crucial Game 7 win over the Dallas Mavericks to secure progression to the NBA Western Conference semi-finals.

The Clippers were 126-111 victors on Sunday as they finally got the job done in the last game of the series, going some way to exorcising their 2020 demons.

Last year, the Clippers missed out on a spot in the Western Conference finals as they blew a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets, who eventually saw them off 104-89 in Game 7 in September.

The Nuggets became the first NBA team to overcome a 3-1 deficit twice in the same playoffs and had been used as a stick to beat the Clippers with practically ever since.

While the Mavs put the Clippers under pressure, with Luka Doncic setting a new Game 7 record for 77 points scored or assisted, it was not enough as two-time Finals MVP Leonard played a starring role.

Although he did not match 22-year-old Doncic's stunning 46-point haul – which made him the youngest player in NBA history to average 35 points each game in a playoff series – Leonard only just missed out on a triple-double, recording 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

Almost half (13) of those points came in an emphatic opening quarter, which Jackson felt was vital in setting the tone.

"I think it all started with Kawhi," Jackson said. "Kawhi came in with a mentality that he was going to take this game today.

"He was going to come in and lead and wasn't going to be shy about his play at all. He really got it going early and once he got it going early, guys had to load up and defenses had to change their coverages."

As for the Clippers moving past the disappointment of 2020, coach Ty Lue seemed relieved to look past it.

"Last year was last year," Lue said. "We talked about it when the season started, that's over and we've got to look going forward.

"We can't keep looking behind and what happened in the bubble. That s***'s over."

On the other side of the coin, much like Leonard in last year's semi-finals, Doncic's brilliance came to nothing in the end.

The Slovenian was the star of the series, with numerous Clippers applauding his performances after Game 7, but he cut a dejected figure and feels he has not proven anything about himself because he is paid to win.

Asked what he felt he had proved, Doncic said: "I mean, nothing yet. We made the playoffs twice since I've been here. We lost both times. At the end, you get paid to win. We didn't do it."

The Clippers will go on to face top seeds the Utah Jazz in the semi-finals after they eased past the Memphis Grizzlies 4-1 in the first round.

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    The Brazil international is set to become the fourth arrival of this window after Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez.

    Casemiro, who had three years remaining on his contract with Madrid, brings plenty of quality and experience to Erik ten Hag's midfield after racking up over 300 appearances during nine trophy-filled years at Santiago Bernabeu.

    Indeed, the 30-year-old won five Champions Leagues with Los Blancos - scoring against Juventus in the 2017 final - as well as four LaLiga titles and three Club World Cups.

    Casemiro struggled to nail down a regular spot following his move to Madrid from Sao Paulo in 2013; spending the 2014-15 season on loan at Portuguese giants Porto.

    However, he did not look back after cementing his place in the starting line-up during the 2015-16 campaign, with no midfielder winning more tackles in LaLiga since then (415).

    The Brazilian has also completed 368 interceptions in the past seven seasons - with Dani Garcia (399) the sole midfielder to better that tally - while Dani Parejo (1,666) and Sergio Busquets (1,504) were the only players in his position to win possession on more occasions than him (1,462).

    Ten Hag has been keen to bolster his ranks in midfield ever since assuming the reins at Old Trafford, with Eriksen's arrival the first piece of that jigsaw.

    But by and large it has been a window of frustration for United, who have spent the majority of the past few months pursuing Barcelona star Frenkie de Jong only to hit several bumps in the road.

    A deal was reportedly agreed with Juventus for Adrien Rabiot only for that transfer to break down due to the player's excessive wage demands.

    That led United to Casemiro, with rumours over the move only surfacing on Thursday.

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    "I've always talked a lot with him in my second time at Real Madrid. I just listened to his desire, I think there's no turning back. This is what he wants."

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    The Brazil international is set to become the fourth arrival of this window after Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez.

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    Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti confirmed on Friday that Casemiro is set to leave the Santiago Bernabeu, with United reported to have agreed a £51million (€60m) fee.

    Casemiro, a five-time Champions League winner with Madrid, is one of a number of midfielders to have been linked with the Red Devils.

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    A number of first-team players have exited Old Trafford since the end of last season, meanwhile, with Paul Pogba the highest-profile departure to date.

    The future of Ronaldo remains in the balance ahead of the September 1 deadline, although a number of teams have opted out of making an approach for the forward.

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    "I respect so much Cristiano and I think he's in this bracket as such a special player that I completely understand the way to manage this is not easy," he said.

    "Cristiano's a massive player and got 24 goals last year. That has a massive impact on the opposition because they fear him.

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    Ronaldo scored 18 Premier League goals last season – only Mohamed Salah and Son Heung-min (both 23) scored more – and netted a team-high 24 in all competitions.

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    Saha, who won four trophies in five seasons with United, feels it is down to others to step up rather than Ronaldo if the five-time Ballon d'Or winner stays.

    "He got 24 goals last season and shut all the criticism in terms of his personal ability, and that was in a team not playing well," Saha said.

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    "No other players could support when he wasn't scoring. We've seen bits from Bruno Fernandes, who is a bit of a shadow of the player he was before the arrival of Cristiano. 

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