Clips exorcise demons, rally past Mavs in 7 games

    Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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LOS ANGELES — As a 19-point fourth-quarter lead shrunk to seven with two minutes to go and anxiety began to spread at Staples Center, Kawhi Leonard got the kind of help he did not get last year in Game 7.

Leonard hit Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr. for two straight 3-pointers that propelled the LA Clippers back into the second round with a 126-111 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

Nearly nine months after suffering an embarrassing Game 7 defeat in the bubble, the Clippers are returning to the Western Conference semifinals to face the top-seeded Utah Jazz by exorcising some of their playoff demons. They overcame yet another spectacular performance from Luka Doncic with a 32-6 run in the second half to survive this first round in seven games.

This time, the Clippers return to the second round having pulled off their own playoff comeback, staving off elimination by beating the Mavericks two games in a row.

Leonard and Doncic engaged in an incredible first-round duel and both stars rose to the Game 7 occasion. Leonard set the tone once again for the Clippers and just missed a triple-double with 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Doncic finished his second postseason with 46 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds.

The Clippers, who also got 22 points and 10 assists from Paul George, managed to finally break through and become the only team to win at home in this entire series. The road team won the first six games in the series for the first time in NBA playoff history (excluding last year’s games in the bubble), according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The Clippers entered this game probably feeling like they were fighting history. They were just 3-5 all-time in Game 7’s entering Sunday, dropping their previous three by an average of 13.7 points per game according to data by ESPN Sports and Information.

And of course, they still could taste the sting of last year’s Game 7 loss when they blew a 3-1 series lead in spectacular fashion to the Denver Nuggets in the second round.

That embarrassing exit for a team that was built to win the championship was a driving force entering this season. But the Clippers dropped the first two games of this series at home and then lost Game 5 at home again to face elimination in Dallas in Game 6.

Leonard delivered perhaps his best all-around performance as a Clipper with 45 points and timely defense on Doncic to force Game 7.

And Leonard opened Game 7 with that same intensity, hitting 5-of-his-first-6 shots, including throwing down a thunderous one-handed dunk for 13 points in the first quarter. The problem, as had been the entire series, was Doncic. The Mavericks star, playing in his first Game 7, scored 19 points in the first quarter and made 10-of-his-first-14 shots for 29 at the half.

The Clippers led 70-62 at halftime with 13 points a piece from Leonard, Paul George and Terance Mann.

Dallas opened the second half with a 19-6 run and led 81-76. But Morris (23 points) rose to the occasion. With his twin brother and Los Angeles Laker Markieff watching from the front row, Morris buried two of his postseason career-high seven 3-pointers to spark a 32-6 run that gave L.A. a 108-87 lead with 8:57 remaining.

Dallas cut the deficit to 114-107 but Leonard found Jackson and Morris for 3-pointers to set off a celebration at Staples Center.

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