Stars carry Clippers at Mavs again, 106-81 rout evens series

(Getty Images)

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined to carry Los Angeles on the road again, and the Clippers are back in control of their first-round series with Dallas.

Leonard had 29 points and 10 rebounds, George scored 20 points and the Clippers manhandled the Mavericks in front of another big Dallas crowd, winning 106-81 in Game 4 on Sunday night to keep the road team perfect in a Western Conference series now tied 2-2.

Reggie Jackson added 15 points, and the Clippers are headed home for Game 5 on Wednesday night much more sure of themselves than when they left LA in a two-game hole.

Luka Doncic started slowly after being listed as questionable because of cervical strain, the diagnosis for the Dallas sensation after he said following Game 3 that he felt pain in his neck and down his left arm.

Playing with medical strips on his left shoulder, and wearing a large pad in that area when he wasn’t playing, Doncic scored 19 points after averaging 38 in the first three games. He was 9 of 24 with series lows in rebounds and assists with six apiece.

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The Mavericks came home filled with hope of ending a 10-year run without a playoff series victory since the franchise won its first championship, knowing the number of fans was about to more than triple with loosened COVID-19 restrictions.

Instead, a pair of crowds exceeding 17,000 didn’t get much after a huge jolt of energy in Game 3 carried the Mavericks to a 19-point lead in the first quarter before Leonard and George took over.

The LA superstars didn’t give fans much of a chance to get into Game 4, beyond an early game of cat-and-mouse between the coaches over the size of the lineups.

After a smaller lineup turned Game 3 in LA’s favor, coach Tyronn Lue chose that approach from the beginning, inserting 6-foot-9 Nicolas Batum as the tallest starter instead of 7-footer Ivica Zubac.

Marcus Morris didn’t even jump against Porzingis on the opening tip, and the 7-3 Latvian scored the first two Dallas baskets on post-up jumpers. Porzingis finished with 18 points.

With Zuban still sitting midway through the first quarter, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle replaced Porzingis with the 7-4 Boban Marjanovich, a fan favorite who hadn’t even played in the series before that.

The big Serbian got a huge ovation and the crowd went even crazier when he had the next two Dallas baskets. Zubac’s first appearance came shortly thereafter.

Neither of those answers lasted long, and the Mavericks never found solutions for Leonard and George.

Leonard, who is averaging 33 points in the series, got to the rim when he wanted to and was efficient from 3-point range, making two of three. He was 11 of 15, and made 24 of 32 in the two games in Dallas.

George did his damage in the first half of both games in Dallas, the first helping LA recover from the hot Dallas start. This time, he had 18 points before the break to help the Clippers take control.

The LA defense was much closer to what Lue has said he wanted. After entering the game shooting 51% from 3-point range in the series, the Mavericks were just 5 of 30 (17%).

The dismal shooting night — 35% overall — was punctuated by an air-ball 3 from Josh Richardson in the third quarter that left Dallas at 3 of 20 beyond the arc. Maxi Kleber had another one in the fourth.

Even more puzzling was another rough night on free throws for Doncic, who has a knack for getting there with his unique abilities to pass and create at the rim. He missed all five freebies, putting him at 13 of 32 for the series.

Behind 35 first-half points combined from Leonard and George, the Clippers built a 61-45 lead. Then LA scored the first eight points of the second half to get the lead beyond 20 for the first time and didn’t look back.