With Clippers moving on, Leonard rolls into second round

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Kawhi Leonard has been the star of two championship runs, winning NBA Finals honors with San Antonio and Toronto.

He’s playing better now than in either of those.

Leonard will ride a career-best streak of five straight 30-point postseason games into the Western Conference semifinals after helping the Los Angeles Clippers finish off Luka Doncic and Dallas with a 111-97 victory on Sunday.

Leonard had 33 points and 14 rebounds, scoring eight straight for the Clippers in the fourth quarter after Doncic had carried Dallas back within single digits.

“Kawhi is a man of business,” teammate Paul George said. “He stepped up. He stepped in. I mean, time after time, you know, whenever we needed him, he put us on his back. He finished the series. I can’t say it enough. I mean, after the series, he is the most reliable guy.”

Though considered one of the NBA’s best players for a few years, Leonard was known more for stopping others from scoring than doing it himself. He was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and ’16.

Now with a mastery of the mid-range jumper and the power to get to the basket against any type of defender, there was no stopping Leonard in the first round. The only time he didn’t score at least 30, he had 29 in the series opener.

The Clippers needed his offense while George suffered through a 10-for-47 slump in Games 2-4, and with Doncic playing so well that it was hard to ever slow down the Mavericks.

“Kawhi was phenomenal throughout this whole series,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought he was dominant and then PG picked it up greatly after the first two games.”

Whoever the Clippers play next will feature another potent scorer. Denver and Utah are tied 3-3, with Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell each having a pair of 50-point games. They will play Game 7 on Tuesday, with the Clippers waiting to open the next round on Thursday.

“It’s one step closer to where we want to get to, so it’s a good accomplishment that we got through the first round,” Leonard said. “Now we enjoy it tonight and we get ready for the next thing tomorrow.”

That wasn’t assured last week, when play stopped after the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t take the court for their game on Wednesday. Players from around the league met later that night as they tried to decide whether to continue in the bubble or leave and return to their homes.

Leonard, known as a quiet player, spoke up as frustrated players tried to figure out the answers.

“I mean, everybody knows he’s a man of few words, but when he speaks, it’s coming from a great place,” George said. “You know, he’s going to get his point across. You know, his demeanor, his presence was felt. He was powerful in those meetings.”

And he looks at the top of his powers on the court.

“He is an amazing player. He shows up every game. He is hard to stop, almost impossible to stop,” Doncic said. “Like I said, he is an amazing player and a lot of people look up to him.”

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