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Cool under pressure

Agence France-Presse

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KAWHI Leonard posts his fifth straight 30-point performance to tow the Los Angeles Clippers to the second round. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NBA

MIAMI (AFP) — Kawhi Leonard finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds as the Los Angeles Clippers advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs with a 111-97 victory over the injury-hampered Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.

Leonard, last year’s NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) with the Toronto Raptors, also had seven assists and five steals for the Clippers, who clinched the series four games to two.

“I just got to my spots and put up the shot with confidence and it went in,” Leonard said after his fifth 30-point game in a row.

“They just kept giving it to me and it went in with confidence.”

The Clippers will face either Utah or the Jamal Murray-led Denver Nuggets, who forced a winner-take-all Game 7 on Tuesday night by beating the Jazz, 119-107.

Luka Doncic scored 38 points in a losing cause in the spectator-free quarantine bubble at Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida.

The Clippers opened the second half with a 20-3 run for a 77-54 edge, and saw the lead trimmed to 88-82 early in the fourth in a Doncic-led fightback only to pull away again down the stretch.

Dallas was sorely missing starting center Kristaps Porzingis, who was out with a knee injury.

“Momentum, it can switch real easily,” Leonard said.

“You have to keep fighting when you’re up and when you’re down stay focused.”

Clippers forward Marcus Morris was ejected late in the first quarter after being whistled for a flagrant foul on the 21-year-old Doncic.

Morris grabbed then hit Doncic with a forearm slam on the head as the Slovenian star drove to the bucket with the ball.

“It was a terrible play,” Doncic said.

In the Eastern Conference, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart each scored 21 points to lead the Boston Celtics over defending champion Raptors 112-94 in the opening game of their second-round series.

Kemba Walker added 18 points and 10 assists for the Celtics, who also had 17 points from Jaylen Brown plus 13 points and 15 rebounds from Daniel Theis.

“Marcus today was unbelievable on both ends,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

“All our guys played with great purpose, great enthusiasm. We just have to clean some stuff up.”

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is set on Tuesday.

Boston frustrated Toronto shooters as the Raptors went 31-of-84 from the floor and 10-of-40 from three-point range — the most three-point misses ever by Toronto in a playoff contest.

“We just didn’t play well enough to win,” said guard Kyle Lowry, who led Toronto with 17 points despite a sore left ankle.

“We’ve got to do our coverages harder, execute better.”

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