George, Harden deliver as Clippers even series with Mavs

ByOhm Youngmisuk ESPN logo
Monday, April 29, 2024

DALLAS -- The Mavericks furiously cut a 31-point Clippers lead to four entering the fourth quarter Sunday night when the Game 4 fireworks truly got underway.

In a back-and-forth classic duel between the Mavericks' Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving and the Clippers' Paul George and James Harden, LA somehow managed to escape Dallas with a thrilling 116-111 win to even this best-of-seven series at 2 despite not having the injured Kawhi Leonard.

In the last 5:03, Doncic, Irving, Harden and George combined to score the final 34 points of the game.

"It was a show," Harden said. "Like elite, skilled, Hall of Fame basketball players going at it. And it's only so much you can do defensively, you know what I mean?"

Harden delivered his most crucial performance as a Clipper, scoring 33 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, to go with seven assists and six rebounds. He made 6 of 8 shots in the final quarter, five coming on floaters in the paint after he found a sweet spot in the Dallas defense. Harden had made just one floater in the series prior to Game 4 and shot 28.1% on 39 floaters attempted in the regular season, according to Second Spectrum.

Dallas coach Jason Kidd explained that his team's defensive focus in the second half was to run Harden and George off the 3-point line and to settle for living with two-point shots.

A major reason for that Dallas adjustment was because George scored 26 of his 33 points and buried 6-of-9 from behind the arc in the first half. George -- who also had 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals -- also delivered the biggest shot of the game in a contest that featured breathtaking shot-making at tense times.

After Dallas took a 105-104 lead on a scintillating Irving drive around three defenders, George somehow created just enough space to bury a contested, sidestepping 3 in the far right corner over Derrick Jones Jr. to give the Clippers a 107-105 lead with 1:55 left.

"Those are the plays or the moves you work on in the summertime," George said. "And it's just you, your trainer in an empty gym. Those are kind of the situations you envision ... just to be in that moment and regardless of how the arena's going, the crowd, the pressure, it's kind of just feeling comfortable in those situations.

"I just felt comfortable."

Dallas never got any closer than three the rest of the way despite Irving making life incredibly uncomfortable for the Clippers. The dynamic point guard scored all 40 of his points in the final three quarters to go with seven rebounds and five assists. He hit six triples.

Doncic, despite laboring through right knee soreness, added his fourth career playoff triple-double against the Clippers with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

But it still wasn't enough for the Mavs, who had to expend so much energy clawing their way back from a 55-24 deficit with 5:43 left in the first half after the Clippers buried 14-of-21 from 3.

It was a stunning start for the Clippers, who played their second game this series without Leonard because of troublesome inflammation in his surgically repaired right knee. Leonard gutted out 25 minutes in Game 3 but did not look like himself, later saying the knee did not respond the way he had hoped after he played 35 minutes in Game 2.

In the two games without Leonard -- both wins -- Harden has been at his best, scoring 28 points and 33 points and making a combined 10-of-16 from behind the arc.

"This is kind of the consistent thing in the series so far," Irving said. "In two games where Kawhi doesn't play, we're just kind of dealing with the barrage of James Harden and Paul George getting off. And so we obviously learned from the first time it happened, but I guess we needed to go through it a second time as a team."

Leonard's return in this series is uncertain.

"When Kawhi's not in the lineup, you can see that almost they're different players to a certain degree," Irving said. "I don't want to disrespect their talent, but I think they play with a little bit more liberation and they take a lot more tough shots. When Kawhi's out there, I think they're looking to be efficient.

"For the second straight game where Kawhi's not playing, we come out and I don't think we were prepared for some of the shots that they were taking. These are some of the greatest players to play all time, and they know that their back is against the wall down 2-1."

ESPN's Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.

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