The final series of the first round ends with the first Game 7 of the 2021 NBA playoffs. Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers face Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
The series is the first in NBA playoff history in which the road team has won the first six games. Will the trend continue for the decisive game?
Leonard is no stranger to high-pressure Game 7s, having won titles with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014 and Toronto Raptors in 2019. However, the last time he and the Clippers were in this situation, they were blown out by the Denver Nuggets in the bubble last year to lose a 3-1 series lead.
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Doncic will play in his first career Game 7. While he has played in high-intensity, championship-level games in Europe, it remains to be seen how Doncic (or any other Mavericks player, for that matter) responds to the pressure against the best of the best in the NBA playoffs.
Kawhi Leonard is averaging 32.8 points in the series, while Luka Doncic is averaging 34.0. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)
Who will prevail and move to on to face the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the second round? Here are predictions from our USA TODAY Sports staffers Matt Eppers, Mark Medina and Jeff Zillgitt:
EPPERS: Mavericks. It doesn't make sense to pick the young player (no matter how good he is) on the road in his first Game 7 over one of the best playoff performers ever, but nothing about this series has really made sense. It stays weird, and Luka Doncic gets it done to send Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers home with another disappointing playoff exit.
MEDINA: Clippers. After disappearing in last year's Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will rectify their shortcomings with two dominant Game 7 performances.
ZILLGITT: Clippers. The home team can’t lose every game in this series, can it? Can it? The Mavs had their chance to win the series at home and didn’t do it in Game 6. Road winners in a Game 7 are rare in NBA history, but not counting last year’s bubble, the road team has a won a Game 7 in 2019, twice in 2018, again in 2017 and of course, Cleveland over Golden State in the 2016 Finals. Clippers get the job done.
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