Sunday's NBA playoffs: Clippers beat Mavs 126-111 in Game 7; Hawks edge 76ers in Game 1

Associated Press
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Los Angeles — Kawhi Leonard scored 28 points, Marcus Morris added 23 and the Los Angeles Clippers finally won at home, finishing off the Dallas Mavericks 126-111 on Sunday in Game 7 of the first-round playoff series.

Playing in front of a small but noisy mix of masked fans and cardboard cutouts, the Clippers did what neither team had been able to pull off in the first six games — win at home. It was the first time in NBA history the road team won the first six games of a playoff series.

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) talks with Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) after Game 7.

They became the fifth team in league history to lose the first two games at home and come back to win a playoff series.

“It was a great win for us,” said Tyronn Lue, who improved to 4-0 in Game 7s of his coaching career. “It showed a lot about our team.”

The fourth-seeded Clippers advanced to the Western Conference semifinals for the second straight year. They'll play the top-seeded Utah Jazz starting Tuesday night in Salt Lake City.

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Luka Doncic had 46 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds to lead the fifth-seeded Mavs, who have yet to win a playoff series since capturing the NBA championship in 2011. He finished the series with 250 points, 55 rebounds and 72 assists.

Paul George added 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for the Clippers. Their backups outscored Dallas' reserves, 27-6, getting crucial contributions from Terance Mann (13 points) and Luke Kennard (11 points). Kennard had played just four minutes earlier in the series.

“They trusted me,” Kennard said. “We trusted each other.”

Trailing by eight at halftime, the Mavs outscored the Clippers 19-6 to open the third and take an 81-76 lead. Doncic had just two points in the run, with Dorian Finney-Smith hitting two 3-pointers and Tim Hardaway Jr. adding another. Finney-Smith finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

The Mavs won the first two games at Staples Center before the Clippers tied it up with two wins in Dallas. The Mavs won Game 5 in LA and Leonard powered the Clippers to a road win in Game 6 with a huge fourth quarter.

“We all feel like we should have won the series,” Finney-Smith said. “If anybody come in and say they don’t feel like we should have won, they’re crazy. We just couldn’t win at home.”

The Clippers responded with a 24-4 spurt — including 12 in a row — to lead 100-85 going into the fourth. Morris made three 3-pointers and Kennard hit a pair. Leonard scored seven points, highlighted by a dunk off George's pass. Defensively, Leonard came up with a big block and Mann helped contain Doncic, who had the Mavs' only points over the end of the third.

“Kawhi came with the mentality that he’s going to take this game,” said Reggie Jackson, who added 15 points. “He wasn’t going to be shy about his play at all. Once he got going early, defenses had to change.”

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Dallas cut its 19-point deficit early in the fourth to seven points on Doncic's fifth 3-pointer of the game with just under 3 minutes remaining. But the Clippers' own long-range prowess carried them, with Jackson and Morris connecting on back-to-back 3s for a 120-107 lead.

Doncic matched his points total from Game 6 with 29 points in the first half on 10 of 14 shooting.

The Clippers produced a 19-13 run, with four players other than Leonard scoring, to go into halftime leading 70-62.

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Hawks 128, 76ers 124:

Trae Young put an early smackdown on Philly that had the Hawks in control of Game 1 and finished the win with a lob to John Collins for a one-handed jam.

Collins punched the air in celebration — and the Hawks took a moment to exhale after a hefty lead was nearly squandered.

“Thank God we were up 20,” Hawks guard Kevin Huerter said.

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young goes up for a shot during the second half of Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Sunday, June 6, 2021, in Philadelphia.

Young scored 25 of his 35 points in the first half as Atlanta shook off Joel Embiid and a hostile crowd and held on to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 128-124 Sunday in their Eastern Conference semifinal opener.

“The confidence in all these guys is high,” Young said. “We’re out here playing for each other. Out here having fun. Everyone's locked in.”

Embiid raised a sledgehammer as he returned from a one-game absence with a cartilage tear in his right knee. He walked out with WWE star Triple H to a roaring ovation.

Young and the Hawks had the Sixers down for the count from the jump and led by 26 points.

The Sixers — playing in front of their biggest crowd of the season at 18,624 — refused to easily cede home court and Embiid scored consecutive baskets that brought them within three with 1:01 left.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, who missed all three games in the season series against the 76ers with a knee injury, steadied the Hawks when he buried a 3 that gave them needed breathing room.

He even put his fingers to his lips and shushed the raucous crowd for good measure.

“He's a big shot maker,” Huerter said.

That wasn't the only long shot that went off successfully.

Going off as five-point underdogs, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Hawks made 14 of their first 18 buckets and were the aggressors, eagerly seizing their moment on national television. Young, much like he did in five games against the Knicks when he averaged 29.2 points, thrived in the spotlight. For all the focus on Embiid, All-Star Ben Simmons and the top-seeded Sixers, Young was the can’t-miss player in Game 1 — as in, he rarely did with the ball, and all eyes were on him.

The Hawks used a 17-0 run in the first half — they hit 20 3s overall — and Young was shaking, saluting and toying with the Sixers and the crowd. Young bowed during the clincher to the New York crowd that had jeered him in every game. He stuck a pose in Philly — he held his right arm high and pointed toward the basket for several seconds that followed a 27-footer he buried to close the first half.

“They hit us in the mouth to start the game,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “They were the more physical team. They were the more aggressive team. They played harder, early.”

Danny Green could not hang as the primary defender on Young instead of Simmons, an NBA defensive player of the year candidate.

Simmons said he wanted his shot for a full 40 minutes on Young and the Hawks expected a shift in strategy.

“Eventually, he'll see some time on a guy who's hot,” coach Nate McMillan said.

The 6-foot-1 Young led the Hawks to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 and has craved the pressure that comes with playing big postseason games in big markets.

One Knicks fan spit on Young during the first-round series. In Philly, he heard “Trae is balding! Trae is balding!” chants that dimmed with each 3-pointer — he hit four 3s and had 10 assists. He waved off fans with a 3 in the third quarter that cut off a small Sixers run.

Embiid answered the will-he-or-won’t-he play question when he walked out for pregame introductions in matching T-shirts with the star wrestler — Triple H's D-Generation X faction was Embiid’s favorite — and had the packed house going wild as he held the sledgehammer high over his head.

Embiid did his part with 39 points and nine rebounds in 38 minutes after he suffered a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee last Monday against Washington. Embiid, who sat out the Game 5 clincher, grimaced at times against the Hawks and hit the floor hard when he lunged at Collins and fouled him.

“Playing on a torn meniscus is not easy,” Embiid said. “The pain is going to be there. That's normal. It's about managing it."

Tobias Harris had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Simmons scored 17 points and again struggled from the free-throw line, going 3 for 10.

Bogdanovic and Collins each scored 21 points for the Hawks.

Game 2 is Tuesday in Philadelphia.

The Sixers made easy work of Washington in five games and with home court throughout the East playoffs, a potential date with Brooklyn seemed in the cards. Sixers fans chanted “We want Brooklyn” as they wrapped a Game 5 win last week.

But they forgot about Trae.

Just 14-20 when the Hawks fired coach Lloyd Pierce on March 1, the Hawks are 33-12 since. They had the best record in the East after McMillan took over, and Young said he isn’t satisfied with just one series victory.

The Sixers made them work for it in a furious fourth — but the Hawks held on and gave Atlanta sports fans something to feel good about on Sunday.

“All the individual stuff is for the birds," Young said. "All we care about is wins.”

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